The tooth whitening industry continues to grow in the UK, thanks in part to celebrity culture. As a result, targeting and eradicating practitioners undertaking illegal tooth whitening continues to remain a key focus for the General Dental Council (GDC). The GDC is the statutory body responsible for regulating the dental profession. Just a cursory scan of their website reveals that there have been seven successful prosecutions between June and August of this year alone.

Two of the most recent cases include Mr Gagandeep Singh, who was convicted for offering tooth whitening treatment without being on the GDC register. He was convicted and fined £1,000.00 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £1,733.08. Limited company, BeauSynergy, and Michelle Chapman were also convicted for offences of performing dentistry without being on the register. The company was fined £2,000.00 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £2,003.76. Michelle Chapman was given a conditional discharge and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £667.00.

It is a common misconception that the provision of tooth whitening is a cosmetic procedure rather than a dental procedure. Tooth whitening products containing or releasing between 0.1-6% hydrogen peroxide should not be made directly available to the consumer, other than through treatment by certain registered dental professionals or those working to the prescription of a dentist. This means that those performing tooth whitening or those that hold themselves out as a dental professional who can carry out this treatment without being registered, could be committing a criminal offence.

Those who have fallen foul of the legislation may be unregistered people setting up a new business or expanding an existing one. In many cases they have completed a course in order to obtain a tooth whitening ‘qualification’, believing that this entitles them to carry out tooth whitening. Many of those pursued by the GDC are beauticians who have undertaken a course and have been told by their course provider that they can lawfully carry out tooth whitening. Whilst this is unfortunate, ignorance of the law is no defence. It is not enough to be qualified if what is being done requires registration with the GDC.

What else is caught by the legislation? Tooth whitening products containing or releasing more than 6% of hydrogen peroxide must not be supplied or administered for cosmetic purposes. Some dentists consider that it is in the patient’s best interests to use a product with a higher concentration. Those that do leave themselves vulnerable to a prosecution. In addition, those that make or supply tooth whitening products above the legal threshold may find themselves prosecuted by Trading Standards and have their goods seized and destroyed. Similar to the GDC, Trading Standards continue to pursue manufacturers and retailers in cases such as these.

A prosecution by the GDC or Trading Standards can have serious consequences for reputation, whether as an individual, an employer or a business. A criminal record can result in serious financial consequences too, including a fine or an order to pay the prosecution’s costs.

Before commencing prosecutions, the GDC and Trading Standards will conduct an investigation to assist in determining whether the case should be prosecuted. During this process, they may write to the person or company under investigation and provide them with a warning or make a request for information. In this situation it is imperative to get legal advice before responding.