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Tooth Whitening Regulations Too Lax?

whitening regulations

In May of 2011, a new and more restrictive approach was adopted by medical professionals and the courts regarding the nature of tooth whitening and how it should be classified. Until recently, you did not need to be a registered medical professional to administer tooth whitening procedures. This led to plenty of malpractice issues, and horror stories from patients of bad experiences and insufficient care, ranging from the inadequate to the just plain obscene. 

New regulations would require any and all tooth whitening procedures to be performed by a dentist, a dental assistant, or a hygienist, ie a qualified medical professional. The regulation is receiving quite a bit of heat, particularly from manufacturers and dental companies who claim that tooth whitening is not strictly speaking a dental procedure, but rather a cosmetic one. The importance in this distinction is that more people would be able to administer the treatment, including people who have a degree in cosmetics, or do not have a degree at all but are qualified to work in the beauty and cosmetics industry. The debate is of course not one that centers on patient protection, or even one that focuses on health care. This ‘debate’ is purely economic in nature; companies are afraid of losing money and want to keep their products rolling. But what should patients think about this piece of legislature? Is this new regulation done so that people can be discriminated against, is this just another overreaction of the nanny state, butting their noses into the private lives of businesses?

 Peroxide gel can cause harm if misused. Therefore it would seem rational to require some sort of expertise and liability from those who perform it.

While there is rationale behind the criticisms that the legislature and the nanny state has received over this issue, let’s not blur the lines with party politics. Tooth whitening procedures involve applying peroxide gel to teeth for a set amount of time, and this may be supplemented by a light being used to harden the gel, or to break up plaque, and this is not to be taken lightly. Peroxide gel can cause harm if misused. Therefore it would seem rational to require some sort of expertise and liability from those who perform it. If this were a purely cosmetic treatment, comparable to filing or painting nails, than the malpractice rate would be much lower.. But it is a cosmetic treatment in the dental sense, in that having whiter teeth is not necessary for better oral health. Unfortunately it can negatively affect your health, if done wrong.

The other main issue is that any and all dental problems, including cavities, root canals, gum disease, etc, would have to be treated before going through with a whitening treatment. This cannot be done by anyone but a dentist, so a person who does not even set up a diagnosis but uses tooth whitening procedures is likely to do more damage than good. 

Main issue is that any and all dental problems, including cavities, root canals, gum disease, etc, would have to be treated before going through with a whitening treatment.

All this taken account I think would make a very clear case for why only professionals should administer the treatment. However, what about take home, DIY tooth whitening kits? By this rationale, does this mean they should be banned? I think not, as the peroxide gel in take home trays is much less concentrated than the chairside peroxide used in dental clinics. Also, they should be used only when a dentist gives you the go ahead, and should not just be bought and used in the same way as say, a pair of tweezers, or wax strips for hair removal. But in the end, it is different if someone buys a take home kit and inflicts damage upon themselves by accident or negligence, than if someone pays money for a service that ends up doing harm. One is just kind of dumb, but avoidable, the other is exploitative and is indeed misconduct. And misconduct is a crime.

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