Dental hygienist Trish Walraven was baffled when she kept noticing tiny bits of plastic embedded in her patients’ gums during dental cleanings. So she asked what toothpaste they were using and made a startling discovery. The patients were using popular Crest toothpaste, which is formulated with tiny bits of plastic called polyethylene designed to help scrub teeth clean. However, dentists say the beads can get trapped under people’s gums and lead to gum disease.
These polyethylene microbeads are approved as a food additive by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They are used in a variety of commercial products, including skin creams and personal lubricants, as well as in drugs including laxatives. The product is also seen as tiny blue beads in toothpastes such as Crest 3D Whitening and Crest Pro-Health.
While the tiny plastic bits may help scrub teeth clean, the body can see them as a foreign object. Bacteria can attach to them and cause pain and inflammation leading to gum disease or gingivitis.
Procter & Gamble, maker of Crest toothpaste, says the beads are safe but the company has decided to cave to consumer outrage and start removing the bits from its toothpastes within the next six months and be completely microbead free by 2016.
Meanwhile, the American Dental Association says it will monitor and evaluate new scientific information that comes out of this issue.