Wipe that brilliant-white smile off your face, says EU
The Department of Trade and Industry says that the nation's most common tooth-whitening procedure - thought to have been used by Britney Spears, Catherine Zeta Jones, Julia Roberts, Elizabeth Hurley, Tom Cruise and even Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer - is illegal under EU rules governing the supply of hydrogen peroxide bleach.
Dentists have now been warned that they face six months in jail or a £5,000 fine if they offer the treatment, which involves applying bleaching gel to the surface of the teeth using an individually-fashioned mouth mould. A 30-minute whitening session, in which laser light is used to enhance results, can cost up to £1,000 and some 100,000 people in Britain are thought to have used the treatment.
The warning also applies to at-home treatments, which cost about £200, in which the dentist provides the bleaching gel and prepares a mould that the patient can wear over their teeth for an hour or so each day over three to four weeks. British dentists claim that they are being singled out over a perfectly safe treatment which is legal in America and tolerated elsewhere across Europe.
Mervyn Druian, a specialist in cosmetic dentistry and a spokesman for the British Dental Association, said: "The whole thing is ridiculous. Tooth whitening is effective and it means that, for a one-off sum without any major intervention, the patient can walk out of the surgery looking and feeling better." Dentists should be able to do whatever they need to do for patients."
George Rodgers, a dentist in Wigan who has received a warning letter from trading standards officers about the treatment, said: "It is immoral of this government to make illegal by petty bureaucracy a treatment which is safe and far less destructive than its alternatives, especially as this tooth whitening is available in America and across Europe."
The legal issue lies in an EU ruling that classifies tooth whitening products as "cosmetic" and makes it illegal to supply hydrogen peroxide bleach for them at greater than 0.1 per cent concentration.
Kits prepared by dentists for use by patients at home can contain 40 times that concentration: the faster-acting treatments given in surgeries use hydrogen peroxide in concentrations as high as 38 per cent.
Although the supply of concentrated tooth whitening bleach has technically been illegal for several years, the rules are enforced by local authorities, who have never previously applied them to dentists.
Following an investigation into a supply company, however, trading standards officers began writing to dentists in Wigan warning them that they also faced investigation and possible charges. More local authorities are now expected to follow suit.
Alan Blundell, the chief trading standards officer for Wigan, said that officers had to be "sensitive" to whether a prosecution would be considered reasonable but they nevertheless had an obligation to inform dentists of the law.
His letter also warned dentists that they could end up in difficulties if a patient reacted badly to the treatment as the client could claim that they had not been given goods that were "fit for their purpose".
The Dental Defence Union has also warned dentists that they may have problems claiming that their patients have properly consented to a treatment if it is deemed illegal. The EU's scientific committee for cosmetics and non-food products has recommended that the permitted level of hydrogen peroxide be raised to 6 per cent: however, it is not known when this recommendation will become law.
Reports that Gordon Brown had undergone tooth-whitening treatment
surfaced last year as colleagues noticed a brightening of his smile.
A Treasury spokesman said: "We are not in the habit of commenting
on this sort of thing".
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