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Risks of tooth whiteners & oral hygiene products


Risks of tooth whiteners & oral hygiene products


How much hydrogen peroxide can they safely contain?

Brussels, 7 October 2008. Toothpastes, mouth rinses and tooth whiteners containing up to 0.1% hydrogen peroxide can safely be used by consumers, but higher concentrations entail potential risks. This is one of the conclusions of an opinion issued by the European Commission Scientific Committee on Consumer Products (SCCP). The Opinion on Hydrogen peroxide, in its free form or when released, in oral hygiene products and tooth whitening products identifies potential health concerns and how these could be addressed in order to ensure consumer safety.

At the request of the European Commission Directorate-General for Health and Consumers, GreenFacts faithfully summarised this opinion on hydrogen peroxide.

A plain-language summary of this scientific opinion is now available from the Directorate-General for Health and Consumers (http://ec.europa.eu/health/opinions/en/tooth-whiteners/) in four languages: English, French, Spanish and German. It is also available from GreenFacts (www.greenfacts.org), a leading publisher of scientific information that was commissioned by the Directorate-General to produce this and other summaries of scientific opinions.

Highlights of the SCCP Opinion

Hydrogen peroxide is a highly reactive chemical, and swallowing a large dose can be lethal. When highly diluted, however, it is non-irritant or mildly irritant. Hydrogen peroxide is used in cosmetics, mainly as bleach in dental products such as tooth whiteners and some hair products. Low concentrations may also be used in toothpastes and mouth rinses as a disinfectant to prevent plaque and inflammation of the gums.

People with certain genetic disorders are more vulnerable to hydrogen peroxide because their bodies cannot break it down effectively. The two most common side effects of using tooth whitening products containing hydrogen peroxide are mouth irritation and increased tooth sensitivity to temperature changes. Although most studies agree that bleaching does not harm the enamel, some investigations report that it does harm the surface of the teeth and may affect the surface of fillings and other restorations. Also, hydrogen peroxide can contribute to the development of existing tumors.

In the European Union, oral hygiene products and tooth whiteners may only be sold freely to consumers if they contain no more than 0.1% hydrogen peroxide whereas in the USA, whitening products are sold at higher concentrations.

The main conclusions of the SCCP opinion are:

  • The use of toothpastes, mouth rinses and tooth whiteners containing up to 0.1% hydrogen peroxide does not pose a risk to the health of the consumer.

  • The use of tooth whitening products containing 0.1 to 6 % hydrogen peroxide entails potential risks for the consumer, but these risks can be limited if tooth whitening is done properly with the approval and under the supervision of a dentist. The specific situation of each individual should be taken into account prior to treatment.

  • The use of tooth whitening products containing more than 6% is not considered safe for use by consumers.

About GreenFacts
GreenFacts asbl/vzw is an independent, multi-stakeholder non-profit organization based in Belgium. Our mission is to bring complex scientific reports on health and the environment to the reach of non-experts.

We publish two types of faithful summaries of scientific reports: GreenFacts Digests of scientific consensus reports (authorised by the GreenFacts Scientific Board), and GreenFacts Co-Publications (published at the request of contracting organizations). GreenFacts’ publications are freely available in several languages on www.greenfacts.org. Each publication is a faithful summary of an authoritative international scientific report.

GreenFacts was created in 2001 by individuals from scientific institutions, environmental and health organizations, and businesses, who called for wider access to unbiased information on health and the environment.

About SCCP
The Scientific Committee on Consumer Products (SCCP) was set up in 2004 by the European Commission to provide the Commission with scientific advice on the safety of consumer products (non-food products intended for the consumer). The SCCP advice is intended to enable risk managers to take the adequate and required actions in order to guarantee consumer protection.

The SCCP addresses questions in relation to the safety and allergenic properties of cosmetic products and ingredients with respect to their impact on consumer health. It not only covers products such as toys, textiles, clothing, personal care products, and domestic products such as detergents, but also consumer services such as tattooing.

About DG Health and Consumers
The role of Health and Consumers Directorate General is to make Europe’s citizens healthier, safer and more confident. Over the years the European Union has established EU laws on the safety of food and other products, on consumers' rights and on the protection of people's health. The DG Health and Consumers has the task of keeping these laws up to date.

It also ensures that the national, regional or even local governments in EU countries apply the EU's health and consumer protection laws and make sure traders, manufacturers and food producers in their country observe the rules.

About Tooth Whiteners
In the European Union, tooth whiteners are regulated by the Cosmetics Directive.

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For further details visit www.greenfacts.org or contact

Katharine Eaton
Tel: +32(0)2 211 3468
press(at)greenfacts(dot)org