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Teeth-whitening Legislation

By: Lauren Williamson
Posted: March 26, 2010, from the April 2010 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.
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Although teeth-whitening products are generally very safe, if the solutions are applied incorrectly, the possible dangers are real. Most teeth-whitening solutions contain a gel form of carbimide peroxide, a type of hydrogen peroxide. Over-the-counter (OTC) teeth-whitening products usually contain a 10% concentration of carbimide peroxide, while professional solutions reach a concentration of as much as 35%, according to the ADA. The most common side effect is temporary tooth sensitivity or gum irritation. In rare cases, the peroxide solution can cause irreversible damage to teeth and gums.

Most importantly, a nondental professional might not recognize existing oral problems that could contribute to complications from the potent chemicals, says Michael Blicher, DDS, a Washington, D.C.-based dentist and past president of the District of Columbia Dental Society. A client might have an infection, for example, that should be treated before a teeth-whitening procedure takes place.

“The mouth is a window to the body,” he says. “A dentist will take a look at it before whitening to see if the patient has gum disease or systemic problems.” If the chemicals interact with such problems, the client could experience major tooth sensitivity—an issue a dentist is able to address, but one for which a spa owner might not be prepared.

Dental dilemma

Markos says the formula she used was no stronger than OTC teeth-whitening products, although it was created specifically for use in spas, salons and stores. The only difference was that her system included a light that sped up the process: A degree of teeth whitening that could take up to three weeks at home could be achieved in just 12 minutes at the spa.

In anticipation of an action from the Alabama Board of Dental Examiners, Markos and the teeth-whitening supplier filed suit against the group. They argued that the teeth-whitening system as it was used in the spa was not a dental procedure and thus didn’t violate Alabama’s dental licensing requirements. The judge felt otherwise.