The changes to the EU Law in October 2012, have helped to clarify the position on tooth whitening. In the UK, the changes were brought into force by the European Communities (Cosmetic Products) Regulations 2004 to 2013 (‘the Regulations’). However, some dental professionals may still be unsure about these changes directly affect them.

Hopefully this selection will answer any questions you may have. If you would like more advice, you could contact either the General Dental Council (GDC) or, if you are a member, the British Dental Association (BDA).

What products can I use as a dentist to carry out the tooth whitening?

You can legally use products containing or releasing between 0.1% and 6% hydrogen peroxide. This is equates to between 0.3% and 16.62% carbamide peroxide.

What tooth-whitening products are available over the counter?

Products containing or releasing less than 0.1% of hydrogen peroxide, including mouth rinses, toothpastes and tooth-whitening or bleaching products, are safe and will continue to be freely available on the market.

When would tooth whitening be appropriate?

Tooth whitening would be appropriate under the following circumstances:

  • - You have carried out an appropriate clinical examination to make sure that there are no risk factors or any other oral pathology concerns.

  • - Exposure to these products is limited, to make sure that the products are only used as intended in terms of how often and how long they are applied.

  • - The products are not directly available to the consumer, but only through a dentist, dental hygienist or dental therapist.

Who can buy products containing between 0.1% and 6% hydrogen peroxide for tooth whitening?

Tooth-whitening products containing or releasing between 0.1% and 6% hydrogen peroxide can only be sold to dental practitioners.

For each cycle of use, the first use can only be carried out by dental practitioners or under their direct supervision if an equivalent level of safety is ensured.
After the first cycle of use, you may provide the product to the consumer for them to complete the next cycle of use.

Can a dentist use a higher percentage of hydrogen peroxide than 6%?

Not for cosmetic reasons alone. Concentrations higher than 6% of hydrogen peroxide present or released in oral products, including tooth-whitening or bleaching products, are illegal unless they are used wholly for treating or preventing disease.

It is a criminal offence to breach the Regulations.

Will I need indemnity insurance to carry out tooth whitening?

If you are registered with the GDC you need indemnity insurance for any treatment you provide.

What will happen if I break the law?

The GDC does not bring criminal prosecutions for breaches of the Regulations because Trading Standards are responsible for this. However the GDC is concerned with the fitness to practise of its members.

It takes the view that if a practitioner has committed a criminal offence, this must be relevant to any assessment of that practitioner’s fitness to practice whether or not there has been a prosecution. Therefore, if we receive information or a complaint that a registrant is using a product for cosmetic reasons that has more than the 6% limit they may face fitness-to-practise proceedings. They can also expect to have the matter referred to the relevant Trading Standards department.

Who should I contact if I need more advice on the EU law on tooth whitening?

Contact your indemnity insurance provider, or get independent legal advice.

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