Consumer champion Which? has slammed beauty salons that carry out tooth whitening illegally as they do not employ qualified staff for the treatments.
A new trend for Hollywood-style white teeth has led to a surge in demand for tooth-whitening systems. Dental regulator, the General Dental Council (GDC) stipulates that it is illegal for teeth whitening to be carried out by anyone other than a dentist.
However, Which? has uncovered evidence that many beauty salons are employing unqualified staff who, after a few days' training, are let loose with harmful chemicals that can cause damage to clients' gums and could also lend the salon with a fine.
Which? sent an undercover reporter to six London beauty salons to pose as a potential client. The reporter discovered that none of the tooth whitening treatments would have been performed by a dentist, and half of the salons were using dangerous chemicals.
Furthermore, the reporter uncovered misleading advice and noted the use of whitening 'lasers' that have no proven effect.
Which? has passed on its file to the dental regulator and the GDC is now investigating these clinics.
GDC president Hew Mathewson and James Goolnik of the British Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (BACD) have both seen the research and offered the following comments to Which?:
Rather than hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide which are both recognised teeth bleeching agents, three of the salons offered a chlorine dioxide treatment. James Goolnik told Which?: "This chemical is a bleaching agent more commonly used to purify water and is very acidic. It can wreck tooth enamel."
The other clinics used hydrogen peroxide in strengths from 0.6 to 10 per cent, which are above the legal limit.
Tooth whitening should not be considered by anybody with a gum disease. There is a risk that the treatment would cause further irritation and ulcerated and receding gums. Two clinics asked to look at the reporter’s gums, but it’s impossible even for a dentist to detect problems from a quick glance.
Two of the clinics said that impressions of teeth would be taken, which is considered a procedure that should be carried out only
by a dentist and therefore illegal if carried out by an untrained person.
The majority of the clinics investigated told the reporter that there could be side effects which include white spots on gums or lips where the bleaching agent leaks from a shield. James Goolnik told Which?: ‘These are chemical burns and there shouldn’t be any. Peroxide should be nowhere near the lip.’
Half of the clinics visited advertised ‘laser whitening’ and one even asked whether the reporter was allergic to lasers. Hew Mathewson said: ‘These lasers are usually just blue lights and there’s little scientific evidence for their added benefit.’
Potential legal action
The GDC believes teeth whitening should be carried out only by a dentist under the Dentists Act and is keen to have its definition
tested by successfully prosecuting someone who pleads not guilty to the offence. It is currently investigating 70 clinics.