The Great Toothpaste Controversy

There’s somewhat of a controversy stirring in the dental world. It has to do with toothpaste and it’s an issue that has divided dentists. Right now, there is still no consensus. What’s the issue at stake? The tiny beads found in many popular toothpastes, most notably Crest.

Toothpaste Controversy: Polyethylene Beads

Polyethylene plastic beads became nearly ubiquitous in personal care products—such as toothpastes, face washes and body scrubs—a few years ago. And the Food and Drug Administration says they’re safe. Many dentists, however, are having issues with the beads. Namely, the beads do not disintegrate and are not biodegradable, making dentists concerned that they’re getting stuck in the tiny crevices between the teeth and gums. 

Toothpaste polyethylene beads are similar to the larger exfoliating beads that the Illinois legislature banned this year because the products can’t be sifted out of the water supply and can end up in large bodies of water, thus harming marine life. With toothpaste beads, the environmental concern is second to the human oral health concern.

Toothpaste Controversy Begins

The toothpaste controversy began with Trish Walraven, a dental hygienist in Phoenix. She began blogging about blue specks she was finding embedded in patients’ gums on an almost daily basis. She drew comparison between the polyethylene beads and popcorn hulls that get stuck in the small channels where the gums meet the teeth, called sulci. Walvaren noted how vulnerable sulci are and that dental hygienists spend most of their time cleaning every sulcus in your mouth, because when this tissue isn’t healthy, then your mouth is in trouble.

Though Walvaren has been lobbying for removal of the beads, she added, “I am not saying that polyethylene is causing gum problems. I’d be jumping too soon to that conclusion without scientific proof.” Her claims quickly went viral, however, with many news outlets and blogs reposting her account. And it turns out she’s not alone. Phoenix dentist Justin Phillip also agrees that the beads pose a serious threat to oral health. Besides the beads’ potential damage, dentists also don’t like how the beads are added purely for aesthetic reasons. 

Toothpaste Controversy Response

Even though the jury is still out on the damage these polyethylene beads pose, Crest has already set in motion plans to discontinue their use. Crest said in a statement this week that it has begun phasing out microbeads from its products, a process that will be completed by March 2016. The company said, “While the ingredient in question is completely safe, approved for use in foods by the FDA, and part of an enjoyable brushing experience for millions of consumers with no issues, we understand there is a growing preference for us to remove this ingredient. So we will.”

It’s worth noting that the ADA still has not found any danger with these beads. Is this because the ADA investigated and truly thinks the beads are harmless or because politics are playing a role in the background? Who knows. At the present moment, the choice of whether to use toothpaste with beads is up to you. We currently don’t have a stance, besides the obvious one: brush for two minutes, twice a day and floss. 

dentist-atlanta-meet-the-drDr. Hugh Flax has a passion for practicing dentistry. He takes great pleasure in changing patients’ lives through their smiles. He received his degree in dentistry at Emory University and began Flax Dental in 1987. Outside the office, Dr. Flax loves music, New Orleans, traveling and more music. Follow Flax Dental on Twitter and Facebook.

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Posted in: Dentistry, Health

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