People use toothpaste to thoroughly clean their teeth and make their mouth smell fresh but those who use Crest toothpaste may be getting more than a clean and sparkling white smile.
Dental hygienist Trish Walraven started to notice little blue specks in the gum lines of her patients a few years back and initially thought these were caused by a cleaning product or something that her patients chew. Eventually, however, she learned that other hygienists also see these blue specks which turned out to be polyethylene, the most common plastic widely used in packaging materials such as grocery bags, garbage bags and plastic bottles.
Polyethylene apparently is also found in some toothpastes and one particular brand appears to have more of the plastic microbeads than the others: Crest, a popular brand Walraven related nearly everyone uses.
What are the implications of brushing with plastic microbeads? Brian Moore, a dentist from Kentucky said that the microbeads can attract more bacteria when these get stuck in the gum line and this could lead to more serious problems such as the development of periodontal disease and gingivitis.
"If it was left in there [in the gums], it could potentially cause some gingival irritation," Moore said. "Any time you have any foreign body in the pocket around the tooth, it's a breeding ground for bacteria."
Here is another thing, polyethylene is not biodegradable they can virtually last forever. The material has in fact raised concerns because of its impact on the environment. The non-biodegradable property of polyethylene also means that it is only broken down into smaller particles.
"Polyethylene will not dissolve in the mouth, or even in household products. It is an inert substance, which means that it doesn't change at all," Walraven wrote on her blog adding that Procter & Gamble, the toothpaste's manufacturer, has said that the purpose of the microbeads is merely to provide color, or in simpler terms, for decorative purposes.
In response, P&G said that while the microbeads are safe and green-lighted for use in foods by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it will remove the ingredient from its products.
"We currently have products without microbeads for those who would prefer them," the company said. "We have begun removing microbeads from the rest of our toothpastes, and the majority of our product volume will be microbead-free within six months. We will complete our removal process by March of 2016."