What is tooth whitening?
Legal Tooth Whitening uses safe, specially manufactured Hydrogen Peroxide based chemicals to lighten the natural colour of your teeth without removing tooth tissue or damaging the tooth structure.
What does tooth whitening involve?
Legal tooth whitening uses a specially formulated Hydrogen Peroxide gel that is specifically designed for teeth. The process involves your dentist taking moulds of your teeth, from which custom made plastic trays are made that fit over your teeth (they won’t fit in anyone else’s mouth). These are called whitening trays.
How long does it take?
These trays are then used to apply the gel to your teeth at home. This is done for 1-2 hours a night over a period of 2-4 weeks (depending on how dark your teeth were originally).
How does it work?
As the hydrogen peroxide in the whitening gel breaks down, it’s safe by products get into the tooth structure lightening their colour. To work the gel needs to have the right concentration of hydrogen peroxide in it.
Is it legal?
Any gel sold in Europe that contains more than 0.1% hydrogen peroxide can only be used upon the prescription of a dentist. 0.1% is not a high enough concentration to have any effect. This is why you cannot buy effective whitening treatments in your local supermarket. Anyone other than a dentist (or a trained dental therapist working under the prescription of a dentist) that offers tooth whitening using a hydrogen peroxide gel of concentrations greater than 0.1% is breaking the law.
The maximum limit of hydrogen peroxide is now 6%. Any gel above 6% is illegal. This is ANY gel that either contains or breaks down to Hydrogen Peroxide, so it includes Sodium Perborate (a chemical commonly used by illegal tooth whiteners)
In addition the dental regulator, the General Dental Council (whose mandate is to protect the public) regulates dentists to ensure patient safety. They also prosecute non dentists who do dentistry. The GDC have determined that tooth whitening is the Practice of Dentistry. This has been reinforced by the prosecution of non dentists in the high court.
So yes effective tooth whitening using hydrogen peroxide is legal. But only if done by a trained individual on the GDC register, such as a dentist. This applies to whitening kits that you order online if sold within the EU.
Is it safe?
Yes. If you get a dentist to oversee your whitening it is safe. There are some warnings that have to be given though:
- Tooth whitening with hydrogen peroxide can cause tooth sensitivity whilst the whitening procedure is being done. This can usually be countered by using a sensitive toothpaste, or by using special tooth desensitising gels that can be bought from most dentists.
- Tooth whitening should not be done by pregnant women or nursing mothers, because the safety of the gels in these situations cannot be tested.
- Tooth whitening should NOT be done if there is active dental disease in the mouth. Tooth whitening in the presence of untreated cavities, periodontal disease or tooth abscesses has been shown to cause big problems, usually resulting in pain. This is the primary reason why only a dentist should supervise your whitening procedure.
- Very rarely you can get gum irritation with the whitening gels, which is a temporary effect. It is rare to see this with hydrogen peroxide concentrations below 6%
- If your teeth are very dark, or have a deep grey shade they can take longer than normal to whiten
- Tooth whitening can only be done on people 18 or over
Will tooth whitening lighten fillings and crowns?
No. These will not change colour.
What about Whitening toothpastes?
According to the Dental Charity the British Dental Health Foundation, whitening toothpastes generally only remove surface stain. They do not have the peroxide concentration high enough to whiten teeth.
It’s ok, I’m going to have my whitening done by a registered beauty technician?
Registered by whom? Unless they are registered with the General Dental Council, it is illegal for them to provide effective tooth whitening. Whitening by non dentists, such as Beauty Technicians, hairdressers and whitening kiosks is illegal. This is now backed up by the recent decisions in the High Court. These regulations are to protect you, the public.
But it’s so much more expensive at the dentist
Yes it is, and for very good reason. Dentists are regulated by the GDC and their premises are inspected for safety by the Care Quality Commission (CQC). All this regulation, and the time and energy that goes into complying with it is to ensure your safety. Plus dentists HAVE to comply with some of the strictest infection control standards in the world. This again is for your safety, and is extremely expensive to do for every individual that walks into a dental surgery.
Dentists are trained for this. It’s not just the 5 years they spend at dental school, but the years of experience they gain from working in practice. A weekend whitening course to become a beauty technician doesn’t really match that level of expertise and skill. The most likely potential risks you expose yourself to by having a Non Dentist whiten your teeth are
Allergic reactions (for example latex)
Pain from whitening teeth that were not suitable
So I want to go ahead, what happens next
- We will need to take moulds of your teeth so as to make your custom made whitening trays. You will need to book an appointment for this.
- We will make you a second appointment to give you your trays and your gel, and to show you how to use them.
- You will be wearing the trays for 2 hours a night for a minimum of two weeks
- We will make you a further appointment to check the progress of your whitening, and we will have informed you how long we expect you will have to whiten your teeth to get your desired result