GDC Cracks Down on Illegal Tooth Whitening Practices

Lorna Jackson
By Lorna Jackson

Lorna was Editor of Consulting Room (www.consultingroom.com), the UK's largest aesthetic information website, from 2003 to 2021.


The General Dental Council (GDC), the UK regulator body for the dental profession, who legally require dentists and other dental care professionals, such as hygienists, therapists and nurses, to be registered with them in order to practice has again been cracking down on illegal tooth whitening operations.

The Dentists Act 1984 makes it a criminal offence for anyone other than a registered dental professional to carry out the ‘practice of dentistry’.

On 10th May 2013, the High Court ruled that tooth whitening is considered to be the practice of dentistry, which therefore means that it should only be undertaken by regulated dental professionals, irrespective of the products or devices utilised in the whitening system and the laws which govern those compositions. As such tooth whitening can only be done by a dentist or a dental therapist, dental hygienist or a clinical dental technician to the prescription of a dentist.

Since that point the GDC has been on a mission to protect the public from illegal tooth whitening operations and has successfully prosecuted a number of people.

It is important to note that prosecutions in relation to the use or sale of tooth whitening products which breach the regulations laid down in the EU Directive 76/768/EEC, such as excessively high levels of hydrogen peroxide etc., is the responsibility of UK Trading Standards and not the GDC. The GDC only takes legal action against individuals for the act of undertaking tooth whitening.

This process continues, at a pace, it seems, with three more successful prosecutions in the last few weeks.

 

The first saw the GDC successfully prosecute two women in London for unlawfully practising tooth whitening at 10, Harley Street, London in January 2014. Maggie Peachey pleaded guilty to the offence and was sentenced to a fine of £750, victim surcharge of £100 and GDC costs of £1,000 at Westminster Magistrates’ Court. The second defendant, Jodie Evans pleaded guilty to two offences of the unlawful practice of tooth whitening and of holding herself as being prepared to practice dentistry (tooth whitening). She was sentenced to a 6-month conditional discharge, £15 victim surcharge and GDC costs of £200.

The second saw the GDC successfully prosecute a woman in Norwich for unlawfully practising tooth whitening at Oasis Sport and Leisure Complex in January 2014. Catherine Davies pleaded guilty to the offences of practising dentistry (tooth whitening) and carrying on the business of dentistry at Norwich Magistrates’ Court. She was sentenced to a 12-month conditional discharge, £15 victim surcharge, GDC costs of £300 and £99 compensation to the complainant.

Finally, the third saw the GDC successfully prosecute a woman in Lancaster for unlawfully practising tooth whitening at Vanity Salon in Lancaster. Hayley Wilding pleaded guilty to the offences of practising dentistry (tooth whitening) and carrying on the business of dentistry at Lancaster Magistrates’ Court. She was sentenced to a 12-month conditional discharge, £15 victim surcharge and GDC costs of £1,604.

 

It’s clear the GDC is taking this seriously, and is actively and rapidly pursuing cases where a complaint has been made to them about illegal tooth-whitening businesses. This is of course reactive policing, rather than proactive, but is still policing and ending in successful prosecutions; the kind that gives you a criminal record!

One Cosmetic Doctor, commenting on this news on Twitter noted how the GDC’s legal ammunition trumps that of the General Medical Council (GMC), which regulate UK doctors, including cosmetic practitioners; “dentists have clear protection for their patients. Is there an 'unlawfully practising medicine' equivalent?

 

The GDC has also been actively working with the online daily voucher deal site Groupon since last summer to guard against the promotion of illegal tooth whitening.

But, taking a step back for a moment... We all know that ignorance is no excuse for breaking the law, but on the flip side it would seem that many ‘beauty professionals’ are being lured into franchises and business opportunities by companies selling tooth whitening equipment that is not altogether accurate with the truth about the ‘practice of dentistry’, or who are relying on loop-holes and vagaries in definitions to sell their wares to beauty audiences.

Journalist Andrew Penman from The Daily Mirror has covered this trend and has been quite vocal about what he views as this deceitful practice. Back in March, he told the story of beautician Caroline Sumpter who paid Megawhite Express Teeth Whitening £1,500 for their tooth whitening set-up, only to be told by the GDC that the practice is illegal.

Caroline asked Megawhite for her money back, on the grounds that “what they don’t tell you is that unless you are a registered dental professional you cannot legally use the system”. The company refused, so along with Caroline, Mr Penman decided to doorstep the Megawhite Director, Bryan Christie at the Professional Beauty show at the Excel in London.

Bryan Christie’s response, with regard to his product, was that his licensees are not performing dentistry. They are giving a product to customers who ‘self-administer’ it by putting the whitener in their mouths while sitting in front of a blue light to accelerate the process. “We are not performing teeth whitening, customers are doing it themselves”; he was quoted as saying.

The Megawhite website also proudly states;  “...our system is a retail teeth whitening product that is self-administered by your customers. You do not need any dental experience to sell this product, just a desire for financial gain.

Megawhite Express is a fully self-administered product. The clients follow the instructions on the packet, allowing them to perform the treatment from start to finish. However, Megawhite provides training material that covers all commonly-asked questions so you will have the in-depth product knowledge and be able to sell Megawhite to your clients with complete confidence.

 

This supposed loophole, which the company believe circumvents the law, is being widely utilised when ‘selling’ the licenses and franchises to beauty businesses.

However, the GDC maintains that within the Dentists Act, it is considered illegal for anyone who is not a dentist to give ‘treatment, advice or attendance’ that would usually be given by a dentist. Therefore they argue that handing a member of the public a tooth whitening tray with gel and advising them on its application, or responding to questions which they may ask, amongst other things, could constitute the giving of ‘advice or attendance’ as part of the practice of dentistry and would therefore be illegal for many of the individuals being sold systems such as Megawhite

A further story this month by Andrew Penman talked of Marie Cook who bought a £1,150 business start-up package from Impression Teeth Whitening of Sheffield. Despite the sales pitch assuring her that ‘no dental experience is needed thanks to the new teeth whitening technology sweeping the world’, she was forced to stop when the GDC told her that she was breaking the law and could face prosecution if she continued. The company refused to give her a refund or make further comments.

So, should there be more of a crackdown on the distributors and suppliers of teeth whitening equipment and license/franchise opportunities? 

Does the government need to give the GDC or Trading Standards more teeth to allow it to take action against those companies who are at the start of the supply chain in this process, or should those interested in adding tooth whitening to their salon businesses have the sense to realise, or do due diligence to find out, that they simply don’t have the necessary qualifications instead of being blinded by talk of potential profits?

There are many regulatory concerns in all aspects of cosmetic medicine, cosmetic dentistry and beauty with many ‘grey’ areas which regulators are still trying to get on top of. One hopes that the more prosecutions the GDC succeeds with, the more chance there is of the message reaching non-dental professionals before the sales reps from the teeth whitening companies do.


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