In the UK, there are laws for what strength of tooth whitening product can be used, and how to carry it out.
Tooth whitening gel that is too strong, or applied by unqualified people, can be extremely unsafe and cause severe and long-term complications for your mouth.
In a summary of the regulations, products containing or releasing up to 6% hydrogen peroxide (the common bleaching agent used in whitening gel) can be used, if:
- Products of this strength are sold only to qualified dental practitioners.
- You have been examined by a dentist first, to make sure there are no risks or any other concern about the condition of your mouth.
- You are over 18 years old.
- The first application is made by a dental practitioner, or under their direct supervision by a dental hygienist or dental therapist.
Buying tooth whitening products
Tooth whitening products and kits bought in UK stores or on the internet can legally only contain up to 0.1% hydrogen peroxide.
This concentration is too low to have any noticeable effect on the colour of the teeth.
Products containing more than 0.1% hydrogen peroxide can legally only be sold to a dentist. This is because they have the potential to damage your mouth. If you see tooth whitening products online that contain more than 0.1% hydrogen peroxide, please do not buy them. They should only be applied by qualified professionals.
People who are allowed to carry out tooth whitening
The General Dental Council takes the view that applying materials and carrying out procedures designed to improve the appearance of the teeth amounts to ‘the practice of dentistry’.
This means that tooth whitening can only be provided by a qualified and registered dentist, dental hygienist or dental therapist working to the prescription of a dentist.
You can find out whether a person is registered to perform dentistry in the UK by checking the GDC register.
Please avoid tooth whitening treatments at salons and beauty spas. They may seem like a cheaper option, but it is likely these are not being carried out by a registered dentist. Not only is this against the law, but they will be unable to help you if there are any complications. The safest route for tooth whitening is always to visit the dentist.
Anna Middleton @londonhygienist: At home whitening
When dentists and dental professionals come out with their own brand of whitening products makes it hard to have a united professional opinion – it’s difficult to say that you shouldn’t use at home whitening products or that they aren’t effective if another professional is advertising them or even has their own products.
Hi smile do have a dental professional range but it’s confusing because that range has to come on prescription.
As well with these cheap treatments we know they don’t work because they add such a small amount of hydrogen peroxide – or even none at all – so if a consumer buys it and tries it at home and doesn’t get the results that they want then it’s money wasted. At such a cheap price point though people might just think “oh it’s only a few pounds I don’t mind if it doesn’t work” and then try a different one.
I think as a profession we need to work on making professional whitening more affordable, the mark-up on whitening can be huge. If we can make whitening more affordable then people might be less enticed by at home fixes or beauticians offering cheap treatment.
With these cheap treatments we know they don’t work because they add such a small amount of hydrogen peroxide – or even none at all – so if a consumer buys it and tries it at home and doesn’t get the results that they want then it’s money wasted.