Lawyers from the Consumer Law and Product Safety team at Leigh Day have recently been sent information by the General Dentistry Council (GDC) involving prosecutions brought against individuals in relation to a specific product being used in salons.

The GDC are clearly taking a hard stance against individuals administered tooth whitening treatment who are not registered dentists, dental hygienists, dental therapists or clinical dental technicians working to the prescription of a dentist.

Meera Lachani from the Product liability team at Leigh Day who is investigating the claims says: "It is encouraging to see that the GDC are successfully bringing prosecutions against those individuals who are accused of providing illegal tooth whitening services, especially when the law is very clear in this area. However, the GDC can only do so much.

“It is important that consumers are aware of the dangers of illegal teeth whitening practices and products to prevent harm and that under The Dentists Act 1984 it illegal for anyone who is not a dentist to give “treatment, advice or attendance” that would usually be given by a dentist.”

The Law

The law concerning tooth whitening treatment is clear. It is without exception a practice of dentistry in accordance with section 37 of the Dentists Act 1984.

The High Court case of GDC -v- Jamous [2013] EWHC 1428 (Admin) re-iterates this position. Tooth whitening can only legally be carried out by a General Dental Council (GDC) registered dentist, dental hygienist, dental therapist or clinical dental technician who are working to the prescription of a dentist.

This is true, regardless of the product used. According to the GDC improperly offering or providing tooth whitening treatment is a criminal offence and may result in an unlimited fine.

Dentistry vs Cosmetic Procedure 

Tooth whitening is not a cosmetic procedure, despite assertions by salons and manufactures that the product is cosmetic and therefore safe and legal. Even if a salon confirms that they have valid insurance this does not indicate that the tooth whitening procedure itself is legal.

The British Association of Beauty Therapy and Cosmetology (BABTC) states that they will not insure individuals to carry out tooth whitening as there is no government recognised qualification for this treatment for beauticians to undertake.

The GDC correctly make clear that under the terms of The Cosmetic Products (Safety) (Amendment) Regulations 2012 it is illegal for tooth whitening products which contain more than 6% hydrogen peroxide or for any associated products which release greater than 6% hydrogen peroxide to be supplied or administered for cosmetic purposes.

In addition, the regulations state that 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 a GDC registered dentist (or dental hygienist or dental therapist or clinical dental technicians working to a dentist’s prescription).

Trading Standards vs GDC

Prosecutions concerning the levels of certain ingredients in a tooth whitening product are brought by Trading Standards and not the GDC. The GDC make clear that it does not enforce the law around the cosmetics regulation. The GDC prosecute individuals illegally carrying out tooth whitening products and do not have the statutory power to shut down salons providing illegal treatment.

The warning is therefore to;

  1. salons providing such illegal treatment;
  2. companies manufacturing and selling tooth whitening products and failing to comply with the law