Do you really need to pay a dentist 700 to get white teeth like Holly Willoughby'sDentists claim bleaching at home is dangerous, but sky-high prices see customers turn to home kits



22:00 GMT, 15 December 2012

Celebrity smile: Holly Willoughby has confessed to teeth whitening

Celebrity smile: Holly Willoughby has confessed to teeth whitening

Thousands of Britons have their teeth bleached to emulate the dazzling smile of celebrities such as TV presenter Holly Willoughby, who recently admitted to doing so ‘years ago’.

It’s an increasingly popular procedure, but not without its risks. Last month, new EU rules banned High Street salons from offering one of the most common treatments – using hydrogen peroxide – in a bid to stop people suffering from mouth burns at the hands of allegedly inexperienced practitioners.

Now only dentists are allowed to prescribe potent levels of this bleach for their patients – and consumers are left facing sky-high prices.

Or are they This month, a kit will be launched in Boots that whitens teeth using a professionally fitted mouth tray and the safe whitening chemical sodium perborate instead of peroxide.

The firm behind the treatment, Pearlys, already offers the treatment in gym-based beauty salons nationwide, but the organisation representing UK dentists is still telling the public to only use a registered dentist.

So is this really about patient safety We spoke to Evlynne Gilvarry, the chief executive of the General Dental Council, to find out . . .

How are these new EU rules going to affect the public

They ought to make things safer for the public because the only people able to offer teeth whitening with peroxide are those who we regard as being properly trained. They are dentists, dental hygienists or dental therapists on the prescription of a dentist.

Did the General Dental Council support this

Yes, because we have said for many years that the public were at risk from tooth whitening being carried out by those who were insufficiently trained. The primary risk was in relation to the strength of chemicals used. This EU directive puts very clear limitations on who can use the higher strength chemicals.

But now it means people wanting teeth whitening will pay up to 700 at a dentist when they could have paid 150 at a High Street salon, many of which are reputable and have never caused damage. Isn’t this just a way for private dentists to line their pockets

We are aware of many cases carried out by untrained people which end up in a GP surgery or a dentist’s being put right, such as blistering of the gums. This is the whole point. Teeth whitening has a cosmetic effect but it is not a cosmetic procedure – it is dentistry and it is not suitable for everybody.

But this might seem a rather flimsy argument when the number of people burnt is small compared with the number who have had teeth whitened safely.

Is the number of examples of harm so few that you would take the risk with someone who is untrained I wouldn’t. The wisest thing is to seek the opinion of a trained professional.

So what about the new treatment in Boots, and High Street salons being free to legally offer non-peroxide methods of whitening

and other reputable outlets can only provide products that comply with
regulations – those with the lower strength chemicals. Our concern is
only with higher strength chemicals being applied by untrained

Weaker bleaching: Most home-kits available on the high street have lower strength chemicals than those at the dentist

Weaker bleaching: Most home-kits available on the high street have lower strength chemicals than those at the dentist

So not ALL teeth whitening is the preserve of dentists

We have always said that tooth whitening is the practice of dentistry and the Dentists Act gives us powers to prosecute unlawful practice. There is a risk of people spending their money unwisely and there may be people who have contra-indications which may only be spotted by a trained professional.

Can you give a common example of a contra-indication

If people have significant gum recession and need to ensure the chemical in a teeth whitener is applied carefully. Only a trained professional can do that.

Dentists make a lot of money. If you are against anyone else doing teeth whitening, will you lose public faith

I hope not – we are about protecting public safety and I cannot emphasise that enough. If you go to someone who is not trained or regulated, you are very exposed. A tiny minority of dentists cause harm but when there is harm caused it is our duty to investigate and take action.

Is there not a concern that some people will go on the internet to buy at-home kits that contain dangerous levels of chemicals

Of course there is, but we can only advise people to be wary. As we know, there are all sorts of risky products available via the internet that we read about every day.