When the European Council's directive on tooth whitening was released at the end of October, clarifying that tooth whitening could only be carried out under by or under the supervision of a dentist and that the supply of tooth whitening products containing more than 0.1% peroxide could only be to dentists, the announcement was welcomed and supported by a number of leading dental bodies. Together they formed a group known as the Tooth Whitening Information Group (TWIG), to promote and ensure safe legal tooth whitening for the general public.
The three principal founders of the group, Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation Dr Nigel Carter OBE, Philips Senior Professional Relations Manager UK - Oral Healthcare, Mhari Coxon and Dr Stuart Johnston from the British Dental Association - discussed why the group is needed.
Q. What is the Tooth Whitening Information Group?
MC: The group offers the profession and members of the public clarity on tooth whitening treatment. Such a lot has happened in a relatively short space of time we found many people still unaware of the new legalities. The group has members from a number of dental bodies, including the British Dental Health Foundation, British Dental Association, British Society of Dental Hygiene and Therapy, British Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, British Association of Dental Nurses and the British Dental Bleaching Society, and together our expertise can work in the best interests of the public.
SJ: Trading standards and the GDC are very supportive of this and have worked with us to make the process of enforcing the law simple and effective for them. The real issue is that these regulators have many other illegal or potentially dangerous activities to deal with - illegal tooth whitening is only one of many things they have to take action on. This is why the group will work to provide evidence and clear reporting of cases to support the work of these bodies and reduce the burden on their limited resources. We are also supporting them with the group's knowledge of what is illegal and what isn't.
Q. Why is such a group needed?
NC: It has become clear that the public do not fully understand what constitutes legal tooth whitening. Many still believe beauticians and high street kiosks can carry out the treatment, and not enough know they should visit the dentist. Cheaper alternatives are financially attractive, but they do pose real health risks.
MC: The same applies to the profession. There's an element of uncertainty. It's our aim to ensure every member of the profession knows the regulations regarding tooth whitening and feels confident in supporting the pubic and reporting any illegal activity they become aware of.
Q. What do you aim to achieve?
NC: Our primary aim is to educate and inform the public on how to achieve safe tooth whitening. We also want to offer clear guidance to the profession on the regulations and offer support to the relevant bodies who will be tackling illegal tooth whitening.
SJ: We are also going to set up a website where dental professionals and members of the general public can make the right people aware of illegal tooth whitening. The Group's co-ordinator will work with those who are unaware they're offering the treatment illegally to change their products and ensure the patients they are treating are not being put in harm's way.
Q. What changes have you overseen?
SJ: We have already put a stop to companies offering discounted illegal tooth whitening treatments. The ease of access to these types of deals was alarmingly easy, and we've helped to educate these companies on what is and isn't legal.
MC: I was delighted to see the High Court rule that tooth whitening is the practice of dentistry. The case involving Lorna Jamous reaffirmed our belief and helped to spread the message to the profession. There are no grey areas in the regulations now - if people want to get their teeth whitened, they must visit the dentist and have the treatment carried out by a suitably trained dental professional.
Q. Where can people go if they suspect any illegal tooth whitening?
SJ: The group launched its website - www.safetoothwhitening.org - specifically to deal with this issue. Any members of the profession that are aware of disregard for the law can register their complaint on the site.
NC: The same applies to the public. If they know of any illegal tooth whitening practice, or wish to make a complaint about a product, they can let the group know and we will take the complaint up on their behalf.
MC: There will also be consistent information for both professionals and the public on the site to help them make informed choices about tooth whitening.