Teeth whitening is very popular in the UK as we take inspiration from our image-led cousins in the U.S., where such products have been available for several years. New EU legislation, however, could well be about to limit the availability and effectiveness of tooth whitening products in the UK.
You may be surprised to know that many of the teeth whitening products commonly used by dentists and sold over-the-counter actually breach current regulations.
The Cosmetic Products (Safety) Regulations state that tooth whitening products cannot contain more than 0.1% hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide is the active ingredient in most tooth whitening products and dental procedures. It is possible that concentrated high levels of peroxide gels could cause some burning of the lining of the mouth or throat, and could exacerbate teeth sensitivity in those suffering from gum recession, but there have been no reports of any serious adverse effects.
An EU directive, however, limited the proportion of hydrogen peroxide to ‘safe’ levels of just 0.1% to avoid these potential problems.
UK dentists maintain that whitening treatments with peroxide gels of up to 15% strength are safe and effective when used in accordance with instructions, and indeed many people have successfully whitened their teeth at home without any problems.
They also stress that without effective teeth whitening procedures, patients may be forced to undergo more invasive dental treatment, such as porcelain veneers or crowns, to gain the same effect.
The 0.1% limit is still in effect, however, and Trading Standards’ officers are pursuing supply companies to curb availability of these gels.
Following repeated lobbying by dentists, the regulations on teeth whitening are about to change.
The EU adopted amended legislation on 20th September 2011 to be implemented by all member states, including the UK, within 12 months, which would allow dentists to use products containing up to 6% hydrogen peroxide, or to provide them for home use once the first treatment has been carried out under their supervision.
The details are complicated, however, so let me explain…
By the 19th September 2012:
- Banned: All products containing more than 6% hydrogen peroxide will be banned in the European Union.
- Allowed But Only If Provided by Dentists: Dentists can sell products which contain hydrogen peroxide that ranges from 0.1% to 6%.
This assumes that the first use or cycle of the product is completed by a dentist following a clinical exam. Following this, the tooth whitening product may be continued by the patient.
Please note: People below the age of 18 cannot use these products, even if provided or supervised by a dentist.
- Allowed to Be Sold Over-the-Counter: The only tooth whitening products that can be sold over-the-counter in the European Union are those that contain no more than 0.1% hydrogen peroxide.
What Does This Mean for Tooth Whitening Products In the UK?
Dental authorities are reluctant to comment on this situation, but it does appear that most currently available over-the-counter teeth whitening products will have to be withdrawn and will no longer be available.
This decision would be one of several examples where an EU decision is forced upon us in the UK despite doubts about its wisdom in some quarters. Many dentists would agree that 6% peroxide is the minimum required for effective whitening within a reasonable time, and stress that such a concentration would still be safe for a responsible adult to use at home.
Certainly, a concentration of 0.1% peroxide or released hydrogen peroxide will not be enough to actually whiten teeth, so those people who wish to whiten their teeth at home are soon likely to be restricted to fewer products based on alternative formulations such as sodium bicarbonate and/or sodium perborate. These are likely to be much less effective than those presently on offer.
Manufacturers are already reacting to the legislation by bringing out non-peroxide versions, such as the sodium bicarbonate-led options from Mint Cosmetics and Botanical White (from the Smile 4 You suppliers). They, of course, claim the products work equally as well as those with peroxide.
The good news, however, should be that those less than reputable companies providing home teeth whitening kits are likely to withdraw from the EU marketplace altogether. It remains to be seen what those companies with products approved by the likes of the FDA in the U.S. will do.
In the meantime, it would seem then that anyone wanting to get hold of an effective solution for home teeth whitening might be well advised to invest in a reputable peroxide kit whilst they are still available. Dr. George’s Dental White, supplied by Smile4You.co.uk is the most effective, best value peroxide whitening kit available.
What Does The EU Legislation Mean for Dentists?
In some ways, the new EU regulations will help to ensure that dentists regain their position as primary providers of teeth whitening procedures, having lost out for a while to suppliers of home whitening kits with peroxide gel and mouldable plastic mouth trays.
It may also help to tackle the problem of rogue providers offering tooth whitening procedures. Tanning salons, nail bars and beauty salons have been found offering whitening with dangerous levels of peroxide, in some cases up to 40%, according to reports.
In January of this year, a court imposed a fine on a Devon-based cosmetologist who pleaded guilty to providing tooth whitening procedures while not registered with the General Dental Council.
Ministers have urged the government to go further than these regulations and ban bleaching outside of dental surgeries altogether. Sir Paul Beresford, Tory MP and dentist, warned that the new rules would fail to capture those salons who continued to offer teeth whitening using other dangerous ingredients, such as chlorine dioxide, which can strip the teeth of enamel.
He wants a complete ban on teeth whitening outside of dentist surgeries.
However far the government are prepared to go, it seems fair to say that when these regulations are adopted in the UK, anyone wanting to whiten their teeth will have much less choice, and perhaps much less effective options, than currently.