ADA investigates teeth whitening among Australians

teeth whitening risks
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To mark this year’s World Oral Health Day (20 March), the Australian Dental Association has revealed some worrying trends around teeth whitening in Australia. 

The ADA conducts an annual survey of consumers’ oral habits every year. Of this year’s survey sample of 25,000 Australian adults, it was found that 22 per cent have whitened their teeth—an eight per cent increase since 2017 when the first survey was conducted.

More than twice as many women than men have teeth whitened, and it’s most popular in the 24-34-year-old age group.

But as of 2021, whitening treatments done by dentists is a downward trend with unfortunately only one in three adults whitening their teeth under the supervision of a dental professional—with 19 per cent of respondents using take-home kits and 14 per cent opting for in-clinic whitening.

The other two thirds of Australians teeth whitened by other means, namely online teeth whitening kits, over-the-counter products, and whitening services provided by someone other than a dentist, with all three of these methods on the rise.

“The theme for WOHD is ‘Be Proud of Your Mouth’, and people seem to be trying to do this by undertaking cosmetic procedures to lighten their teeth,” ADA spokesperson Dr Mark Levi said.

“The problem with home treatments that are not supervised by a dental professional or are being done by someone other than a dental professional is that you’re exposing yourself to a range of injuries including soft tissue burns from peroxide, extreme pain if the bleach gets into a crack or hole, blotchiness and damaged enamel—and even swallowing the bleach.

“A high percentage of my patients who’ve tried to whiten their teeth themselves report pain—but when done correctly, there shouldn’t be any pain. That’s why seeing a dentist for teeth whitening is best.”

Dr Levi added: “People need to get their oral health assessed first to ensure there are no cracks in teeth, untreated dental decay, leaking fillings or other unresolved dental issues that could cause pain, discomfort, damaged nerve pulp—or even more serious problems down the track.”

The ADA has long held serious concerns about this unregulated space and has written to the ACCC on several occasions about the availability of teeth whitening products that contain illegally high concentrations of hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide which have no safety warnings, as well as concern over false advertising claims about the nature of product ingredients, the extent of the whitening effect consumers can expect, and the claimed expertise of non-dental practitioner teeth whitening service providers.

As the peak dental body, the ADA has asked that the ACCC and its regulators act to better protect Australian consumers by enforcing compliance with relevant Australian laws and educating consumers about the health risks associated with undergoing teeth whitening procedures without first seeking the advice of a dental professional.

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