Ask the Expert

Ask the Expert - Katie Spears

Katie Spears, Head of in-house appeals and criminal enforcement team  at the General Dental Council (GDC) answers our July 'Ask the Expert'  question...

'I've been told that self-administering tooth whitening is legal - is this true?

We live in a world of social media and reality TV and its hard to escape images of the body beautiful which great you every time you turn on the television or scroll through Instagram, so it is not surprising that tooth whitening is more popular than ever. Many of us are aware that a trip to the dentist in search of the Hollywood smile will run to several hundred pounds, Therefore it is not surprising that people look for cheaper options, and as beauty therapists with a passion for providing beauty and personal care services, the lure of providing tooth whitening is all too tempting.

The problem though is that tooth whitening is a dental treatment, and for it to be legal and more importantly safe for the individual receiving it, it must be offered by a trained and registered dental professional.

The law in the UK is very clear. Tooth whitening is a dental treatment that can only be performed by a registered dentist, dental therapist, dental hygienist or a clinical dental technician working to the prescription of a dentist. This is set out in legislation (Dentists Act 1984)  and was confirmed in a case law by the High Court in 2013 (GDC v Jamous).

This means that if you offer tooth whitening when you are not a registered dental professional, you are committing criminal offence which carries a potentially unlimited fine and a criminal record.

The GDC is aware that some practitioners are attempting to circumvent the law, by claiming that their treatments are 'self-administered' .

To clarify, it is illegal for anyone who is not a registered dentist or registered dental care professional to give 'treatment advice, or attendance' that would usually be given by a dentist or dental care professional. Therefore, handling an individual a tooth whitening tray and advising them them on application amongst other things, could constitute giving 'advice or attendance', and would be a criminal offence.

The GDC is concerned with protecting the public by ensuring that all dental treatments are provided legally and safely, Dentists are highly trained professionals who train for at least five years in order to qualify to practice in the UK. This training means that they are able to assess a patients suitability for the treatment or intervene in the case of an emergency if things go wrong, which they can do. We have seen several serious cases including individuals who have suffered from the loss of teeth, permanent nerve damage and permanent gum and tooth sensitivity.

I'm sure you will agree that public safety is paramount, therefor its important that tooth whitening is only carried out by those lawfully able to do it.

Useful links on the GDC website...

https://www.gdc-uk.org/patients/illegal-practice/working-legally/tooth-whitening

https://www.gdc-uk.org/patients/illegal-practice/working-legally