Stamp it out!
Founder of a campaign against illegal tooth whitening clinics Beverley Carlyle explains why she decided to take action
How many times have you seen tooth whitening offered on your local high street or had a Groupon/daily deal offering whitening from as little as £49, drop into your email inbox?
Have you ever checked the advertisement or looked to see who was actually performing the treatment?
Chances are it’s a self-styled whitening technician or bleaching specialist and not a GDC-registered dental professional.
Eight years ago, I relocated to Edinburgh from Northern Ireland and one of the first things I noticed was a clinic advertising tooth whitening “from £49&
rdquo;. The strapline was “Don’t be making the dentists rich!” so it was safe to presume that there were no dental professionals working in those premises.
I was rather intrigued and phoned to enquire about it. I was told that it was the same power whitening system that was used by dentists and that it was 100 per cent safe and my teeth could be lightened up to 22 shades.
I must confess to feeling shocked that someone with no dental experience was performing power whitening, but even more shocked when the receptionist told me that they had four clinics operating in Scotland, all seeing upwards of 20 patients per day.
I picked up the phone and called the GDC to report illegal practice but was told that whitening was a grey area and the council couldn’t do anything about it.
As the years went on, more and more salons were arriving on the high street. You could even have your teeth whitened in the local tanning salon and video rental store…
This made me very concerned as I’d worked with the chair-side whitening agents and knew how easily they could burn the lips and gums if not applied carefully and if the patient was not kept under close supervision for the duration of the treatment.
In my workplace, we were starting to see the devastating effects from whitening performed by these non-dental technicians. Often, chemical burns resulting in painful lips and gums and sensitivity were the driving factor for patients to present for emergency appointments and there was nothing we could do to help them, other than advising them to wait until the burns healed and giving treatment for the tooth sensitivity.
I felt terribly sorry for these patients and advised them to report the clinic to the GDC and Trading Standards and make sure that their family and friends knew to stay away from them too.
I’ve had a Facebook account for a few years and in the past couple of years there has been an influx of business pages offering tooth whitening from mobile technicians, hairdressers, whitening clinics, many featuring before and after images to help draw in business. I have often shared such images on my wall with a reminder to my friends and family that tooth whitening should only be performed by a GDC registered dentist, hygienist or therapist and I’ve always had messages about them, mostly asking why it’s unsafe.
At the start of February, a very close friend liked and shared an offer from a mobile whitening technician. She was offering a free treatment for Valentine’s Day if she could reach 500 likes. I clicked on the page and was shocked by the images I saw there. I was moved to do something immediately to warn people that it was unsafe, so I started a Facebook page of my own.I called it ‘Stamp Out Illegal Tooth Whitening’, shared the images in the before and after folder from the whitening technician that was running her Valentine’s deal and a message as to what the images were showing and why it was dangerous. Within three hours, I had more than 90 likes and 32 friends had shared my page.
The messages started to flood in. Reports of painful experiences people had received at the hands of such salons and technicians and people asking what could be done to stop it. I gave them links to the GDC website for reporting illegal practice and links to their local Trading Standards body. I also asked them to contact their local MP or copy them into the report.
I posted a couple more images that I’d found on other business pages and, within 24 hours, I had more than 200 likes and an inbox bursting with messages.
I was struggling to keep up with the page that weekend and, thankfully, dental professionals had taken it upon themselves to start replying to posts from members of the public and were posting up links to legislation, advising people on how to treat sensitive teeth, etc. I was overwhelmed by the support.
After four days, I had to take on another admin for the page – a dental hygienist who had been answering posts and spending a lot of time advising members on how to report the illegal practice. By the end of the week, I appointed a dental surgeon as a third admin and yet the three of us were still being overwhelmed by the amount of reports and messages we were getting. We were up to 900 likes within a week!
We decided that we had to get a strategy worked out quickly as to how to harness the support we were getting and try to bring about change. It is much bigger than protecting our profession, it is all about public safety and clearly the public are being put at risk when they entrust their oral health to these technicians.
We’ve found out that the training companies offer a one-day course in which the trainees are taught how to identify gum disease, caries, crowns/veneers/dentures, how to perform the treatment and finally how to market their business. This is taught over the space of eight hours and then the trainee receives a certificate allowing them to go out and provide power whitening.
They don’t have to concern themselves with vaccinations, clinical waste contracts, decontamination protocol, CQC registration, first aid or CPR training. They have no regulation whatsoever and it seems that anyone with £1,500 to £3,000 can train and set up their business.
We have been shocked by how widespread the business really is. So far, we’ve uncovered two dentists not registered with the GDC offering whitening and training on how to perform whitening and a dental surgeon removed from the GDC register also selling whitening training. We’ve also witnessed whitening companies performing whitening en masse at a beauty show and bridal fair with no hand washing facilities, no gloves in evidence, no disinfecting or sterilisation procedures between clients, no medical history checking, no auditable trail of clients treated and the public unaware that anything is out of order.
We’ve found salons advertising with fake awards on their windows and marketing material, misleading claims of “up to 28 shades lighter in 20 minutes”, “whitening specialist using the only desensitising light in the UK”, “trained by the top UK whitening specialist”, “2011 Dentistry awards best whitening product”.
They can look very professional and the public don’t stop to check if these accreditations are real or false. One company even had a GDC number showing for the dentist providing the treatment and, when it was checked on the register, there was no such number in existence.
We have notified the GDC of everything we’ve uncovered so far and have put together templates for complaints to Trading Standards, MPs, magazines, health editors of national newspapers and email addresses for sending the complaints to.
I have been delighted by the support from the dental community and it’s amazing how us pulling together has helped make some changes in the few weeks since the page was started.
We have managed to secure a statement from Groupon that it will no longer be running any deals without a GDC number for the person performing the treatment. Boots has also withdrawn a product from sale that allowed the purchaser to take their own impression and send it off to receive a custom-made bleaching tray and the syringes of whitening gel. And a whitening company was put under pressure to stand down from the Dentistry Show at the NEC in Birmingham, due to complaints from the dental community. The company in question has several whitening clinics that do not have any GDC registrants providing the treatment, but was hoping to branch out into mainstream dentistry and sell its products to GDC-registered dentists. The firm stood down from the show approximately 24 hours before it opened.
We have had interest from a television production company in covering the illegal whitening issue and they have already filmed undercover at a public event where whitening was taking place.
We were invited to speak at the Dentistry Show in Birmingham and Enlighten changed its programme of talks to include a debate on illegal whitening. The dental professionals in our talk were shocked by the images that we had uncovered and shocked to hear about how widespread the problem is.
We now have more than 1,500 members on our Stamp Out Illegal Tooth Whitening Facebook page and we need more help. We are asking that everyone shares and likes our page, uses the template letters on there to send reports of illegal practice to the GDC and Trading Standards and hopefully, with the support of the dental community, we can approach more companies such as eBay and Amazon to stop them selling illegal strengths of up to 36 per cent hydrogen peroxide to the general public.
We hope to get our message out to the beauty colleges so that all trainee beauticians know that they are wasting their money if they enrol in a tooth whitening course and that they will be at risk of prosecution if they undertake the treatment.
We will endeavour to get as much press and media coverage as possible to get the message out to the general public that they are endangering their health and oral health by visiting these technicians and, hopefully, people will respond and stop putting themselves at risk.
We hope to meet with the General Dental Council someday to find out what is happening and why there have only been a handful of prosecutions so far. Of course, we understand that the legislation was only changed in October 20ı2 and it is a lengthy procedure to collect evidence and put together a case to prosecute someone for the illegal practice of dentistry, but we hope to get some understanding as to how the reports are dealt with and what will be happening.
In the meantime, our page will continue to receive reports and publish images that demonstrate the damage being done by non-dental professionals and we will continue to raise public awareness of the dangers of this unsafe, unregulated practice. For further information on what we’ve uncovered so far, letter templates and address for reporting, please visit our page and hit like and share.
We can’t do without your support and with it, we can bring about a change.
Visit http://www.facebook.com/StampOutIllegalToothWhitening for more details.
About the author
Beverley Carlyle has worked in dentistry for 22 years, starting out as a dental nurse in Northern Ireland and working in both NHS and private practices. She had an interest in dental implants and worked alongside several implantologists for many years.
Beverley decided to move into management and was given training in developing her team and managing a business, moving to Edinburgh in 2005 and working for the Scottish Dental Implant Centre before moving to manage two practices in Edinburgh for Integrated Dental Holdings.
She relocated back to Northern Ireland in 2010 and has been working as a business development manager for Ballynahinch Dental Care.