A generation growing up on social media is putting its teeth at risk by turning to illegal providers of whitening and straightening products, dentists have warned.
In a letter to the Daily Telegraph, more than 1,000 dentists said the public was being left increasingly “exposed to risks” because of a lack of investment in dentistry.
They said difficulties finding an NHS dentist meant patients in the UK were increasingly forced to turn to charities which were set up to help developing countries.
Meanwhile, those seeking cosmetic work were increasingly turning to illegal providers, the letter warns.
Dr Tony Kilcoyne, a dentist from Haworth, West Yorks, who co-ordinated the signatures, said urgent action was needed to improve access to dentistry.
And he said rising numbers of young people were turning to beauticicans, hairdressers and DIY kits in order to attempt to create the “perfect smiles” they had seen on Instagram and reality TV.
It is illegal to practice dentistry without being a qualified dentist, registered with the General Dental Council.
And only dentists or hygienists with specail training in tooth whitening are supposed to offer it.
Last year the General Dental Council has successfully prosecuted at least five people for illegally offering teeth whitening without the necessary qualifications.
Dr Kilcoyne said: “We’ve seen a big increase in straightening in the last year, and whitening has been increasingly popular for a good few years, with Instagram and social media making poeple liking the idea more and more.”
“The problem is people are having this done illegally, by beautificans, hairdressers, or buying kits online, and this can result in major damage - to the bones, the roots, the nerves.”
“We are seeing more patients coming to us as a result of this.”
In the letter, the dentists call on the Government to double investment in NHS dentistry, warning that the foremost medical reason for any child to be admitted to hospital is rotten teeth.
They said that dentists were being “buried” by increasing bureaucracy, leaving too many consumers to find illegal ways to have work carried out.
“We work with one arm tied behind our backs, while being too easily bypassed by openly compromised or even illegal providers of whitening and braces, with patients not even visiting a properly registered dentist face to face first,” the letter says.
“It makes a mockery of our high standards, training and care but worse, leaves the public exposed to risks.”
A department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We want everyone to have access to high-quality dental care and in the last two years over 22 million adults were seen by a dentist.
“It is illegal for anyone other than a dental health professional to perform a tooth whitening procedure. Trading Standards can prosecute any company using or supplying an illegal concentration of hydrogen peroxide for the purpose of tooth whitening.
“Improving oral health is part of a wider focus on prevention in our NHS Long Term Plan – backed by an extra £33.9bn in cash terms a year by 2023/24.”