Toothpaste Makers to Remove Plastic Beads from Products

Toothpaste is an unlikely item to make news headlines, but that’s what happened recently when dental hygienists noticed tiny plastic beads emb edded the gums of patients who use Crest toothpaste.

These polyethylene microbeads do not biodegrade, and they are primarily used for color in toothpaste, according to a Washington Post article.

It appears Trish Walraven, a Texas dental hygienist, was among the first to publicly express concern about these tiny plastic beads when she wrote about it on her blog in March. It’s an excellent write-up with photos and great information, which we hope you’ll read.

Here’s the reason for concern: dentists and dental hygienists are finding these little beads embedded in the gums of patients. Some dental professionals are concerned that the beads could help trap bacteria and lead to gingivitis. There also is concern that the body will respond to the foreign objects beneath the gum line and produce inflammation.

It is important to note that no studies have been conducted on whether this could actually happen. Proctor and Gamble, the makers of Crest, say the microbeads are approved by the Food and Drug Administration and safe for use.

However, the FDA says it has never approved microbeads for use in toothpaste, which it considers an over-the-counter drug. Polyethylene is allowed to come in contact with food, but no ruling saying it is safe to consume has been issued by the FDA, according to an NBC report.

It looks like studies into whether these microbeads could usher in gum disease will be unnecessary. The Washington Post reports that Crest has said the phase-out of the microbeads from its products has begun and will be completed by March 2016. The Today Show reports that Proctor and Gamble has said the microbeads will be removed from most of its toothpastes by March 2015.

“I will admit it’s a bit disconcerting to see these microbeads appear in images dental professionals have captured with intraoral cameras,” says Dr. Robert Walley, a San Francisco cosmetic and general family dentist. “Our dental hygienists are able to remove them when they find them, but it will be nice when the toothpaste manufacturers eliminate the issue altogether by removing microbeads from their products.”