A new survey* suggests more than one in four people (28%) would not go to the dentist for their tooth whitening treatment and purchase home kits over the internet, visit beauticians and kiosks instead.
When asked who is qualified to carry out the treatment, 25% of people believe beauty kiosk staff and beauticians can do so, a move rendered illegal on 31 October last year.
Under the European Council directive, tooth whitening products containing or releasing between 0.1 and six per cent hydrogen peroxide can now only be sold to a registered dental professional offering the treatment in their practice.
While 98% of people in the survey correctly identified dentists as those able to carry out the treatment, chief executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter, issues a stern warning to anyone considering tooth whitening outside the dentist's chair.
Dr Carter said: 'There is no doubt tooth whitening is becoming more popular due to the sheer number of places you can now have it done. There is also no doubt a vast number of these are operating illegally and pose a significant health risk.
'Beauticians and those working in kiosks carry out the procedure without the correct training, qualifications or the expertise required. In many cases the tooth whitening agent contains hydrogen peroxide above the recommended limit, which can result in permanent damage.
'If it is carried out by someone who does not have the necessary qualifications, it can result in increased sensitivity and damage to gums. Crowns, bridges and denture teeth will not bleach, which is something the unqualified will miss. If it is carried out by the dentist they will use the time to examine for other problems.'
The clamour for whiter teeth has been driven by the desire for the celebrity look, with many people seeking the perfect smile. In fact, only last year the Foundation revealed the stigma attached to stained teeth, as it was voted second in a list of turn-offs in the opposite sex.
The survey questioned more than 2,000 people as part of National Smile Month 2013. Taking place from 20 May to 20 June, the campaign is sponsored by Listerine, Oral-B and Wrigley.