Tooth Whitening.. the law explained

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Tooth Whitening… wasn’t it always illegal? The plot thickens…


Tooth whitening has always been a bit of a government farce. We can take a lot of delight in blaming our own government and the EU (we like doing that, don’t we?). Just to make things clear, tooth whitening was illegal up until 1st Nov 2012. Technically, even dentists weren’t supposed to be doing it! I can hear the general public getting worried, “uh-oh, has it damaged my teeth?” Well the answer is, thankfully, NO! If it was done sensibly and properly!

The legal bit

Tooth whitening is done using two compounds, one is hydrogen peroxide, the other being carbamide peroxide. The latter, breaks down to become the former, so essentially they are both very similar compounds and have very similar effects. The law previously stated that 0.1% hydrogen peroxide was the strongest concentration of whitening agent that could be used. This was due to a re-classification of the product from a medical compound to a cosmetic one. Now 0.1% hydrogen peroxide is as useful as a box of chocolates, at whitening teeth. It won’t work! Despite this, trading standards, were supposedly told to ignore dentists who were offering 3-4-5% hydrogen peroxide solutions to whiten teeth.


So what’s happened now?

Well, we have a new law; this one is from the EU and has been ratified by our government (in-between numerous coffee breaks I am sure). What this new law says is that only those on the dental register may carry out tooth whitening, and that they may only use a concentration up to 6% hydrogen peroxide (this translates to 18% carbamide peroxide).


Is this good?

Kind of yes, and kind of no. Firstly, it makes all teeth whitening by beauticians, shopping centre salons and alleged ‘cowboys’ illegal! I have seen many teeth ruined by so called ‘tooth whitening specialists’ and I’m glad to say that now it’s clearly banned and not allowed! So the next time you see a smile-salon-spa in Bluewater or Westfields, ask them if they are on the dental register. If not, call trading standards and report them, as they are breaking the law and potentially putting your life in danger. What would happen if someone had a serious allergic reaction to latex or some other compound in one of these salons? Do you think they are trained in basic life support? Probably not! Similarly, if someone had a reaction the next day or week later, will that pop-up smile-salon-spa still be in the middle of the shopping centre to get advice?  Probably not, and you wouldn’t know where to find them even if you tried!


On another dentist note, it does mean, that the highly prevalent and previous market leader Zoom! Tooth Power Whitening is now essentially illegal. Not the lamp, or the actual technique, but Zoom kits use a very high concentration of hydrogen peroxide which is too great for the new legislation. This effectively means that Zoom! is now a non-entity for dentists, however, I understand that the company is working on a new gel formulation which should bring them in line with the law. Why they haven’t announced this already, is a very bad PR stunt on their behalf, as one of their competitors, Enlighten smiles,  in a PR stroke of genius, are offering £200 worth of tooth whitening kits in return for dentists old Zoom! lamps. We will watch this one with interest to see what happens.


Is it bad?

Well, in my opinion, not really. It does limit what dentists can use to whiten teeth, it also seems to limit in-surgery options for whitening discoloured teeth in children. In-fact, tooth whitening in anyone under 18 is illegal and cannot be carried out. This is where my main gripe is. If a 13-year-old girl who has a black front tooth, due to knocking it a few years previously, comes to me wanting the tooth whitened, as she is getting bullied at school. Going by the letter of the law, I cannot whiten this tooth. I can drill the enamel off of it, and place a ceramic crown (which may compromise the longevity of the tooth), but I cannot whiten it! Madness! I think some dentists (and I am in no way recommending this) may still whiten the child’s tooth, and stand by their clinical beliefs that this is in the patient’s best interest. Again, we would need some back up from the BDA and other dental bodies to push this point, and get the law changed! Will it happen, well it’s taken almost half my life to get this far, I doubt it will get changed before I am contemplating retirement!


So, in summary…

Tooth Whitening can ONLY be carried out by dentists and those on the dental register.


Power Whitening such as Zoom! using anything above 6% hydrogen peroxide is now illegal!


Whitening the teeth of those under 18 is now illegal.


All beauty salons, shopping centre whitening agents etc. who now offer tooth whitening are breaking the law. If you wish to learn more about tooth whitening, contact me via my website www.drnileshparmar.com

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