BDA Scientific Advisor, Professor Damien Walmsley, debunks some common myths on tooth whitening and asks patients not to gamble with their health.
An awful story hit the headlines, The Guardian was the first to report:
One dead and two critically ill after dental treatment trip to Turkey. Almost all other major media outlets followed with their own slants on the story.
Our thoughts are with those young men and their families and friends. No-one should have to go through such a tragic turn of events. The story was fast-moving and the facts were not fully released. We commented on the dental aspect of the trip. However, the headline was wholly misleading. Later information revealed that a spokesperson for the hospital treating two of the patients has since confirmed teeth whitening treatment was not the cause of the illness.
Part of my role as Scientific Advisor at the BDA, has been to get the scientific evidence and knowledge we have on dentistry out there. So, I’d like to debunk some of the myths we often see in the press and online about tooth whitening and dental tourism, which I hope will help when you speak to patients:
Myth 1: Over the counter kits are safe to use
At best, you may just be wasting your money buying over the counter and online product to get whiter teeth. Most home whitening kits take longer or are less effective than the treatment you can get at a dentist.
Dental practices can use hydrogen peroxide and are trained in its usage (it is a seriously strong chemical and not to be messed with), whereas you have no idea what over the counter and online products contain and how they could harm your teeth.
The BDA has long been campaigning to ensure that tooth whitening remains the
practice of dentistry to ensure patients are protected. Dangerous levels of hydrogen peroxide are the equivalent of brushing with bleach and can put oral health at risk.
Trading standards attempts to regulate the flow of these products onto our shelves, but it is a mammoth task and some online products being sold in the UK have been found to contain dangerous chemicals, which are toxic or banned, that can severely burn your gums and damage your teeth.
Myth 2: Anyone can achieve a ‘Hollywood smile’
While lots of people might want a ‘Hollywood smile’, there are lots of reasons why whitening might not be suitable for your teeth. If you have gum disease (which you may not be aware of), some whitening products will not be suitable for you and cause a lot of damage.
Dentists are trained to consider a patient’s wider health issues and detect any problems. Please talk to your dentist and ensure that you are getting treatment that is appropriate for you and safe. Don’t believe the miracle-level claims made by some whitening products. Trust the professionals instead.
Myth 3: It’s cheaper to get teeth whitening done abroad
Dental tourism appears to be a growing trend - people seeking dental treatment abroad because they believe it is cheaper. Also, there is some clever targeted advertising which will appeal to people who are concerned about their teeth.
Turkey has a large medical and dental tourism industry, and the Turkish tourist agency is hoping to attract 2 million health tourists to the industry by 2023. That treatment advertised overseas might seem cheaper, even if you factor in travel costs, but what value do you put on safe treatment, and your health?
We hear time and again of patients who have gone abroad for dental treatments, but then face issues with continuity of care when they come back. If things go wrong, you need to know there are safety nets in place and that problems will get sorted, without facing another bill.
My advice is: don't gamble with your teeth or your health.
Myth 4: Dentists are scary
The UK press seems to have a real problem with its representation of dentists. We’ve been shown as lion killers and only interested in money, all driving Porsches and play golf. The media feeds off stereotypes and sensationalism sells papers. And the reality, that dentists are hard-working healthcare professions, can get lost.
We work hard to combat these stereotypes and try to put positive stories out there, while combating inaccuracies when they crop up. We’re making progress. For every bad story, there’s a good one. But people seem to like reading the more gruesome ones.
We can all help to dispel the myths surrounding dentists and dentistry. Personally, I like telling patients that Americans have worse teeth than us. A joint
USA-UK study found that the average number of missing teeth was higher in the US (7.31) than in England (6.97).
Professor Damien Walmsley
BDA Scientific Advisor