27 December 2011

Q. I am a hygienist who is interested in providing tooth whitening for patients. Can you advise me what training is needed for me to provide this treatment legally?

The GDC have made it clear that in their opinion the provision of tooth whitening to patients is the practice of dentistry and therefore it may only be provided by suitably trained dentists and DCPs.

This statement is somewhat controversial (particular amongst beauty therapists) but both the Department of Health and the Department of Trade and Industry seem to be at one with the GDC in this respect.

In attempting to establish how you should be “suitably trained” you might ask the GDC. Unfortunately the GDC do not define this concept and leaves it very much up to the individual. That may seem slightly unfair, particularly as it is that individual’s registration that is at risk if the training is deemed to be incomplete.

Traditionally where any new clinically based procedure is concerned, it is felt that a registrant should attend an appropriate “hands-on” training session that is specifically designed for that registrant group. It would for example be inappropriate for a hygienist to attend a course designed for dentists as the course organisers may assume a level of knowledge in such subjects as biochemistry and anatomy that the hygienists would not have as part of their initial training.

By and large the GDC are uneasy about “online” courses, because it is often difficult to quantify just how much has been learnt. Similarly “in-house” training has the same problem, although in that situation you can use a log book to demonstrate the number of cases you have undertaken during that training process together with the various learning points etc.

Tooth whitening is very much a practical process, although you do of course have to know the anatomy, the physical (and chemical) processes involved and such aspects as how to obtain valid consent etc. Attending a hands-on course can help to avoid any of the doubts associated with other courses.

When it comes to indemnity, Dental Protection regard whitening of teeth as part of the normal duties of a hygienist and therefore unlike some other indemnifiers, there is no additional subscription to be paid.

Finally you of course do need to be aware that a whitening technique using hydrogen peroxide in a concentration of more than 0.1% is currently illegal in the UK. This difficulty is not insurmountable and Dental Protection’s position statement discusses this in more detail. 

Dental Protection Limited is registered in England (No. 2374160) and is a wholly owned subsidiary of The Medical Protection Society Limited (MPS) which is registered in England (No.36142). Both companies use Dental Protection as a trading name and have their registered office at 33 Cavendish Square, London W1G 0PS.

Dental Protection Limited serves and supports the dental members of MPS with access to the full range of benefits of membership, which are all discretionary, and set out in MPS’s Memorandum and Articles of Association. MPS is not an insurance company. Dental Protection® is a registered trademark of MPS.

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