Teeth Whitening – The Need to be Wary

In August this year, Olivia Howes, writing for Which, advised those looking for whiter teeth to be aware of the dangers of home tooth whitening kits.

Home tooth whitening is very popular, but the active ingredient for those sold online or over the counter is tiny by comparison with that which only dental practitioners can use.  It is illegal for the products available online to exceed the permitted levels, but some online sellers (who ‘Which’ discovered are international sellers posing as UK-based) are offering the product at a strength which is clearly unsafe to use.

Home whitening kits come in a variety of forms – powders, paints, pens, strips and kits.  They are all a cheap option by comparison with what a dental practice charges, but serious questions are raised about their efficacy and, more importantly, their safety.

Whilst the standard in the UK for achieving whiter teeth uses concentrations of 6% hydrogen peroxide, this strength can only be used by dental professionals who are registered with the GDC (General Dental Council).  By law, beauticians cannot carry out the procedure.  Over the counter kits cannot contain more than 0.1% hydrogen peroxide.

The process involves an examination of the mouth to ensure there is no reason why the whitening product cannot be applied.  After this, an impression is taken so that the trays used to deliver the product are assured as a snug fit, preventing any leakage onto the gums or into the mouth.  The whitening product is contained in the trays, which are placed to surround the teeth.

Lightening by up to several shades then takes place, although repeated treatments are necessary in order to reach the shade required.  These treatments must all be prescribed by a dentist.  

Side effects can sometimes be experienced, such as temporary tooth sensitivity, a sore throat or gum discomfort, but if the product is provided by someone other than a dentist and it is too strong, the consequences could be much more severe and longlasting.  

Which reported that “The Oral Health Foundation (OHF) says that the concentration of hydrogen peroxide allowed in home kits is too low to have a noticeable effect on the underlying colour of your teeth, no matter what the manufacturer promises. It’s possible that the kit may include other stain removing ingredients which could help teeth look whiter, but you could probably achieve this equally well with a stain-removing or whitening toothpaste”.   

The British Dental Journal added that products supplied by anyone other than a dentist could damage tooth enamel.  This is particularly the case when adopting the recent practice of painting bleach onto the teeth.  

People selling products which break the law have been jailed, one case in particular having resulted in hospitalisation for the unaware customer.  These criminals use ways to get around the regulations and the law, then supply the product without instructions, without an ingredient list and sometimes even without boxing.  This means that not only do buyers not know how to apply the product, but that they don’t even know what it contains.  ‘Which’ pointed out that without the information necessary, there is no hope of redress when anything goes wrong.  It may even be impossible to contact the seller.

The answer?  Have a chat with your dentist and in the meantime, try a stain-removing toothpaste, which is said to be as effective as the very weak products available over the counter.  Ask about Boutique Whitening.  It may be more expensive, but the results could be just what you’ve been dreaming of.

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