20 million people in the UK are leaving themselves open to illegal and potentially harmful tooth- whitening.

New survey data3 suggests more than one in four people (28 per cent) would not go to the dentist for their tooth whitening treatment and purchase home kits over the internet, visit beauticians and kiosks instead.

When asked who is qualified to carry out the treatment, 25 per cent of people believe beauty kiosk staff and beauticians can do so, a move rendered illegal on 31 October last year.

Under the European Council directive, tooth whitening products containing or releasing between 0.1 and six per cent hydrogen peroxide can now only be sold to a registered dental professional offering the treatment in their practice.

While 98 per cent of people in the survey correctly identified dentists as those able to carry out the treatment, Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter OBE, issues a stern warning to anyone considering tooth whitening outside the dentist’s chair.

Dr Carter said: “There is no doubt tooth whitening is becoming more popular due to the sheer number of places you can now have it done. There is also no doubt a vast number of these are operating illegally and pose a significant health risk.

Beauticians and those working in kiosks carry out the procedure without the correct training, qualifications or the expertise required. In many cases the tooth whitening agent contains hydrogen peroxide above the recommended limit, which can result in permanent damage.

If it is carried out by someone who does not have the necessary qualifications, it can result in increased sensitivity and damage to gums. Crowns, bridges and denture teeth will not bleach, which is something the unqualified will miss. If it is carried out by the dentist they will use the time to examine for other problems.”

The clamour for whiter teeth has been driven by the desire for the celebrity look, with many people seeking the perfect smile. In fact, only last year the Foundation revealed the stigma attached to stained teeth, as it was voted second in a list of turn-offs in the opposite sex.

Dr Carter added: “There are a number of ways to stop your teeth from becoming stained and discoloured, reducing the need for tooth whitening. Smoking is a major culprit. Many smokers have yellow teeth due to the nicotine and tar content, and they can become brown if you’ve smoked over a prolonged period of time.

National Smile Month

National Smile Month

Too much red wine, tea, coffee and blackcurrant can also lead to stained teeth. Cutting down on these things will stop your teeth becoming so discoloured you need a tooth whitening treatment. Although whitening toothpastes do not alter the natural colour of your teeth, they are more effective at removing staining.

If you are considering getting your teeth whitened, there are now clear guidelines for everyone to follow when it comes to the procedure. It must be done in a dental practice. If you have any questions or need advice on tooth whitening, don’t take the cheap alternative in a kiosk. The Foundation’s Tell Me About leaflet offers basic, easy to understand information on the topic. The National Dental Helpline can also field any questions you may have.”

The survey questioned more than 2,000 people as part of National Smile Month 2013. Taking place from 20 May to 20 June, the campaign, sponsored by Listerine, Oral-B and Wrigley, encourages everyone to follow three basic rules for great oral health throughout life:

– Brush your teeth for two minutes twice a day using a fluoride toothpaste

– Cut down on how often you have sugary foods and drinks

– Visit your dentist regularly, as often as they recommend.

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