May 21, 2008 -- Teeth whitening is a booming, billion-dollar business, but would you get it done in a mall? Whitening kiosks are popping up in malls across the country. But how safe are they?
ABC News' Cincinnati affiliate WCPO investigated some mall bleaching kiosks, using hidden cameras to uncover what goes on in the booths. ( Click here to get more information on this story from WCPO.)
Not only did the kiosks charge less than would a licensed dentist (a dentist typically charges $500 for teeth whitening, but many mall kiosks offer the treatment for $50 to $100), they also used different whitening gels.
What Consumers Are Getting
It's a familiar scene in Cincinnati's Eastgate Mall. The scrubs, the gloves and the chair all are clinic-like. But the bleaching booth isn't an office. It sits in a corridor, wedged between a jewelry store and makeup retailer.
"We use a hydrogen peroxide," one employee said. "This is in a gel form and it's like 35 percent."
But that's wrong. It's not hydrogen peroxide. It's carbamide peroxide. If they were using hydrogen peroxide at that concentration, the American Dental Association said it would cause severe pain and burn your gums. So why don't these employees know basic information about the product they're selling?
"We are at 30 percent carbamide peroxide, which is easily confused with the word hydrogen peroxide," said BleachBright dealer Jennifer Richardson.
BleachBright's CEO agreed that the Cincinnati employee who made the hydrogen peroxide claim was wrong and has since been removed. But that's not all.
Acting as Dentists
WCPO's cameras captured an employee turning on and positioning a light that's sometimes used in whitening. Many states consider that practicing dentistry without a license. For that reason, BleachBright said employees are never supposed to actually perform procedures. Instead, they're supposed to instruct customers how to the whitening themselves.
While the investigation didn't uncover any customers who had been harmed at the BleachBright whitening kiosk, the American Dental Association still has serious concerns about the practice of mall whitening.
"The public expects a high level of care from the dental profession, and when people in the mall clinic — in some ways … masquerading as a dental office and then not living up to that standard — it bothers me because it puts us all in a bad light," said the association's consumer advocate Matthew Messina.
Some state regulators are taking action against other mall teeth whitening companies. South Carolina shut down several bleaching kiosks for practicing dentistry without a license. Oklahoma and North Carolina filed suits alleging the same. North Carolina's dental board even said there's been "potential harm" to customers in a couple cases.
Safety Tips for Your Teeth
It's important to note that not everyone is a candidate for whitening. People with tooth decay or chipped or cracked teeth aren't good candidates.
Follow the tips below to keep your teeth safe.
Don't whiten if you haven't seen a dentist in more than a year. Check to see if you have any cavities or receding gums. If a patient does not consult a dentist before whitening, it could lead to extreme sensitivity for teeth and gums.
Remember that strong bleaching solutions require gum protection. If a facility is talking about using a strong solution on your teeth, it should also offer protection for your gums.
Veneers or crowns may not match. If you have veneers or crowns, bleaching could make it so your teeth don't match.
Finally, know that bleaching doesn't usually work on grayish teeth.