It’s likely that every morning you wake up, drink your coffee and then stick some plastic in your mouth—and you might not even be aware of it.
The blue flecks found in several brands of toothpaste, often assumed to be “flavor crystals,” are actually polyethylene microbeads—and some dental professionals are becoming concerned that these tiny bits of plastic can cause serious oral health complications.
Crest, in particular, has been put on the spot regarding microbeads in its toothpastes.
In response, the company announced last week that it would remove microbeads from all its products by March of 2016. Most products, the statement said, would be polyethylene-free within six months.
Crest maintains, however, that this is due only to customer preference, and not to any proven harmful effects.
The Food and Drug Administration has said such beads are safe. The American Dental Association released a statement saying it would not withdraw its seal of approval from Crest products with microbeads, citing a lack of clinical evidence.
However, some dentists have expressed concerns that the beads can become trapped under the gumline, encouraging irritation, gingivitis, and bacterial growth.
Tracy Walvaren, a dental hygienist, drew media attention several months ago when she wrote on her personal blog that she was seeing ill effects in her patients and her own children from the microbeads.
Walvaren further objected to the plastic pieces because their only purpose is to add color to toothpaste.
“Polyethylene plastic is in your toothpaste for decorative purposes only,” she wrote. “This is unacceptable not only to me, but to many, many hygienists nationwide.”
Gingivitis to Periodontitis
Gingivitis, the mildest form of periodontal disease, typically presents in swollen, sensitive gums. But as plaque spreads beneath the gumline, the bacteria causes the body to turn on itself, breaking down the tissues and bone that support teeth.
The gums can then recede, leaving pockets between the gums and teeth vulnerable to infection.
If left untreated, periodontal disease can even lead to tooth loss, leaving cosmetic dentistry as a patient’s only recourse. It is estimated that the United States has some 5,847 cosmetic dentistry facilities.
However, procedures once thought of as purely cosmetic are becoming recommended more and more often for medical reasons.
Missing teeth, for example, can lead to trouble speaking and eating (even if replaced by traditional dentures), as well as gum and bone loss.