A dental hygienist’s concern about the tiny blue dots she kept seeing in people’s mouths has led to an announcement from the parent company of Crest toothpaste that it will start phasing out the controversial ingredient over the next six months.
Trish Walraven said she wondered what the little blue specks could be that she found along the gum lines of some patients. They are plastic microbeads made from polyethylene or polypropylene, the same materials used to make garbage bags.
“I didn’t have any clue what it was,” she said. “We thought it was a cleaning product or something that people were chewing.”
Walraven thought the public should know, so she blogged about the issue this past March on DentalBuzz.com. She also encouraged people to consider discontinuing using toothpaste containing polyethylene since she objects to it being there “for decorative purposes only.”
“This is unacceptable not only to me, but to many, many hygienists nationwide,” she wrote. “We are informing our patients. We are doing research separately and comparing notes. And until Procter & Gamble gives us a better reason as to why there is plastic in your toothpaste, we would like you to consider discontinuing the use of these products.”
Procter & Gamble (P&G), Crest’s parent company, has stated that the microbeads are FDA-approved and are used in exfoliation products and to add color to products such as chewing gum and toothpaste.
However, FDA said it has not approved microbeads for uses such as toothpaste, which it classifies as an over-the-counter drug. While the plastic material may be in contact with food, FDA has not determined that it is safe to consume.
In addition, microbeads in toothpaste are not considered an “active ingredient,” which means that FDA doesn’t monitor their use.
“By definition, food additives are for their intended use in food,” said FDA spokesman Jeff Ventura. “Toothpaste is regulated as a drug product and is not considered food.”
Regardless of regulatory status, some dentists say they don’t believe that the microbeads belong in anyone’s mouth.
“They’ll trap bacteria in the gums which leads to gingivitis, and over time that infection moves from the gum into the bone that holds your teeth and that becomes periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is scary,” said Dr. Justin Phillip, a Phoenix-area dentist.
Environmental groups have also voiced concerns because the tiny beads are not trapped in water treatment filters, wash into waterways and eventually end up in the food chain. Researchers have reportedly found microbeads of 1 millimeter and smaller in the Great Lakes.
P&G has heard from so many upset consumers that it recently said that the microbeads would be removed from affected Crest products within six months and completely gone by March 2016. The Cincinnati, OH-based company also said that its toothpastes containing the microbeads are Crest ProHealth and 3D White.
Crest products which do not contain the microbeads include Crest Whitening + Scope, Crest Baking Soda Peroxide, Crest Extra Whitening, Crest Cavity and and Crest Tartar + Whitening, P&G said.
Other firms and/or products using the microbeads are Unilever, L’Oreal’s Biotherm and Body Shop brands and Johnson & Johnson’s Neutrogena face scrub.
The state of Illinois has already banned products containing microbeads, and New Jersey, California, New York and Michigan could be next. In June, U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) sponsored a bill in Congress to end the sale or distribution of personal care products containing microbeads by Jan. 1, 2018.
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