Dental council calls for teeth-whitening controls

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Media captionEvlynne Gilvarry from the General Dental Council: 'Teeth-whitening is only safe when done by a dentist'

The General Dental Council is calling for tougher controls on who is allowed to carry out teeth whitening in the UK.

Thousands of people have their teeth whitened every year in High Streets and shopping centres, by staff with no formal dental training.

After complaints about poor treatment, the council says teeth whitening is a dental procedure so only dental professionals should administer it.

However, teeth-whitening companies say it is a cosmetic not dental process.

Bleaching methods

The law in this area is unclear as teeth whitening was uncommon when the 1984 Dentists Act came into force.

The act says only dentists can perform dental procedures.

Teeth whitening is a way of lightening the natural colour of teeth using bleaching methods.

People often want it because their teeth have become discoloured through drinking, eating, smoking and with age.

One of the most common forms of teeth whitening is through laser treatment.

This involves putting a bleaching gel on the teeth, which are then exposed to an LED light for 15 to 30 minutes.

General Dental Council (GDC) chief executive and registrar Evlynne Gilvarry said: "Over the last few years we have received hundreds of complaints from the public and dental professionals about poor tooth whitening."

Bad experience

BBC Radio 5 live Breakfast spoke to Paula, who regrets having her teeth whitened at a beauty salon.

She said: "My teeth lost their shine, they were almost opaque. My gums went white, and my teeth were so sensitive after the treatment that even just the fresh air hurt them."

Paula went to dentist Dr Wyman Chan to put right the work.

He said: "The enamel on Paula's teeth had been stripped away, so I had to put an alkaline substance on her teeth to heal it.

"Her gums were also damaged by the bleach, which had not been properly applied."

Dr Chan says lots of patients have come to him after having a bad experience of teeth whitening.

"If you go to a non-dental professional, any dental problems would be missed. And they really have no idea about what they're doing," he said.

Prosecution threat

But Edward Mills, from the company Smart-Smile, told 5 Live Breakfast: "I have never had a single complaint from a customer.

"I welcome further regulation of the industry, but think the GDC should only clamp down on non-dentists who use peroxide-based whitening treatments, and not the chlorine-dioxide treatments, which I use, because they are safe."

The GDC says it does not distinguish between treatments and only dentists and dental-care professionals should be allowed to whiten people's teeth in the UK.

The council successfully prosecuted the director of a national chain of tooth-whitening salons in March this year - and is warning it will bring similar proceedings in the future.

Its view is supported by the Department of Health, which says tooth whitening should be performed by a suitably trained and competent dentist or dental-care professional.

A survey conducted by the GDC and exclusively revealed to 5 live Breakfast found more than 80% of the 1,021 adults polled thought teeth whitening should be carried out only by a registered, trained and qualified dental professional.

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