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Expert opinion: Teeth Whitening - call for action on rogue beauticians


This is an old problem which just will not go away. For about 20 years, dentists have been allowed to use bleaching agents to whiten their patients' teeth.

Since then, many happy patients have undergone safe and effective tooth whitening at their dental practices. Before this, the level of bleaching agent (6% hydrogen peroxide) currently used was thought to be too strong to be applied to the teeth because of the damage that it could do to the soft tissues, and the kits that could be bought “over-the-counter” just do not have enough active ingredient to make a difference.

However, because this is seen as a "cosmetic" procedure, some people (beauticians and their potential customers) assume that it is risk-free and are prepared to try and achieve a whiter smile without any understanding of the health issues this could cause.

A dentist will assess your mouth to see if you are suitable for the treatment: the presence of white fillings or porcelain crowns at the front of the mouth could mean that your pearly-white smile resembles a shade-guide for paint, as the teeth and the restorations will not whiten to the same extent, or not at all. Some will remain the same old darker colour! Remember also that your dentist has had years of training to make sure that the treatment offered will not damage you. Hypersensitivity is a common side-effect, and too high a dose of the bleach can damage the soft tissues. In the wrong hands this could be painful and potentially disfiguring.

Your dentist will also be a member of a professional body, registered with the General Dental Council and obliged to take out insurance that will cover you if something unexpected happens.

Why choose a beautician?

Is it any wonder that they can charge less: they are offering to provide you with a dangerous product that may make your appearance worse, with no back-up if it should go wrong. The prosecutions for people carrying out these procedures are aimed at discouraging anyone from damaging their clients in this way. And remember that to make a case, someone has to have complained about them!

A safe alternative

Avoid stains by not smoking, brush and floss the teeth well so that plaque doesn’t turn into tartar and capture stains from food and drinks like red wine and tea. Go and see your dentist and hygienist for a scale and polish. And if all else fails, remember that teeth look whiter when contrasted against darker colours, like those of us who get a tan in the sun……or maybe wear a darker lipstick!

Dr Julia Beaumont, Lecturer in Biological Anthropology and retired dentist giving her opinion on news article about teeth whitening.

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