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Tooth Whitening – what questions should you ask when considering treatment?

what to ask about tooth whitening imageArticle by Francesca Keen

Whiter teeth can be perceived as more youthful. With so many tooth whitening treatments on offer, how do we know which are are safe to use?

Acting Head of Illegal Practice at the General Dental Council, Francesca Keen, talks us through the latest developments on issues involving tooth whitening.

Tooth whitening, is something we get asked about a lot.

The last 18 months have proved to be quite eventful in the field of tooth whitening with a number of significant milestones.

There has been significant press about it, some of it positive and some of it incorrect. The GDC’s stance remains the same; tooth whitening may only lawfully be provided by those who are registered dental professionals.

 Who can carry out tooth whitening?

 We believe that tooth whitening is the practice of dentistry, which should only be performed by GDC registrants.

If you’re thinking about getting tooth whitening, read our leaflet and speak to your dentist. A dentist will be able to advise you whether or not you are suitable for tooth whitening treatment and dentists, hygienists and therapists will be able to discuss the options available to patients.


You can search our registers at www.gdc-uk.org to find a GDC registered dentist. You may wish to ask them questions about the training they have undertaken or ask for references from other patients before choosing whether to undergo treatment.

Complaints about tooth whitening

We also investigate allegations of patient harm as a result of tooth whitening and, where we have enough evidence, we will bring a criminal prosecution. We will also take action against any of our registrants who are carrying out this procedure outside our Scope of Practice guidance. Our Scope of Practice guidance explains which members of the dental team should perform this treatment.

If you have a complaint which involves:

• evidence of patient harm;

• a patient who is, or may be, willing to co-operate with the GDC; or

• an allegation about a registrant who may be practising outside the Scope of Practice guidance.


Please call us on 0845 222 4141 or email us at illegalpractice@gdc-uk.org


The GDC has brought a number of successful prosecutions against non-registrants for illegal practice. You can find out more details about the cases on our website www.gdc-uk.org

Our advice on Tooth Whitening

In addition to reading our leaflet “Considering Tooth Whitening?” we also suggest you speak to other patients, get a second opinion if there is anything you are unsure of and always ask for a written treatment plan and price estimate before you go ahead with any treatment.

We also advise you to carry out your own research and ask some basic questions.

For example:

What types of tooth whitening are available and what are the differences between them?

What sort of results can I expect?

What are the risks?

Will it hurt?


Non-surgical cosmetic procedures


As you may be aware, dental professionals can also offer other treatments, besides tooth whitening and general dentistry.

However, it’s worth knowing that any GDC registrants choosing to offer something like Botox or any other non-surgical cosmetic procedure have to meet the same high standards we expect of them when they carry out dental work.

In particular, registrants must ensure that they only work within their knowledge and professional competence, they must adhere to our standards at all times, and must be prepared to back up any decisions they make when treating patients.

All GDC registrants are also required to make sure they have adequate and appropriate arrangements in place so that patients can claim any compensation they may be entitled to if something goes wrong.

We have a fact sheet that guides patients through what is expected of their dental professional in terms of indemnity or insurance as well as what to do if something does go wrong.


It is available online http://www.gdc-uk.org/Membersofpublic/Documents/Indemnity%20patient%20information%20FINAL%20August%202012.pdf


The General Dental Council (GDC) is the UK’s dental regulator and we are here to make sure you get the best standards of care and that you can be confident that the profession is being properly regulated.

All dentists, dental nurses, dental technicians, clinical dental technicians, dental hygienists, dental therapists and orthodontic therapists must be registered with us to work in the UK.

Our purpose is to protect you – the public and patients – by regulating the dental team. We do that by:


•registering qualified professionals,

•setting standards of dental practice and conduct,

•assuring the quality of dental education,

•ensuring professionals keep up-to-date through Continuing Professional Development,

•helping patients with complaints about a dentist or dental care professional, and

•working to strengthen patient protection.


For more information about who the GDC is and what we do please log on to our website www.gdc-uk.org



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