My daughter Rebecca found this article about tiny plastic beads in certain varieties of Crest toothpaste, apparently put there by the manufacturer to give the toothpaste its blue colour. As some of us may know, there is great controversy in the inclusion of plastic beads as an abrasive in some “invigorating” body wash soaps, supposedly as a scrub enhancement or exfoliating agent. They wash down the drain and into large bodies of water like the Great Lakes and our oceans.
These beads, made of the polyethylene, have been found in the bodies of plankton, tiny sea creatures which are an important part of the marine food chain, and have been adversely affected by them, as they may block their digestive tracts, causing them to starve to death. These little animals are eaten by larger creatures, such as fish, and the beads progressively work their way up the food chain. The plastic also has the sponge-like property of soaking up pollutants like motor oil and pesticides. On the positive side, polyethylene doesn’t contain bisphenyl A, so it seems to be safe from that standpoint (that is, it doesn’t contain this hormonal disruptor.)
Although the plastic beads in this brand of toothpaste are much smaller and so may be less of a threat to the aquatic ecosystem, we don’t really know how harmful they may be. What we do know is that in people, these tiny plastic bits have been found in the gingival crevice, the narrow space between the gum and the tooth, and are difficult if not impossible to dislodge. This happened to my daughter.
Although regulators from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have approved the use of these plastic beads, as there is no real evidence that they’re dangerous to health, no comment has been received from the Environmental Protection Agency, I guess because no one asked. On the other hand, they have no health benefits. Many dentists, though, are questioning the possible effects of the beads retained below the gum, as they fear that they may form a surface which harbours oral bacteria, and so may endanger the health of the gums. So far, no scientific inquiries have been carried out to test this possibility, which means that the effect is unknown, not that it is nonexistent. I don’t tend to be alarmist, but these plastics don’t break down naturally, and they’re not biodegradable.
The use of these beads has been banned in Illinois.
Crest put out a statement recently that it has begun phasing out microbeads from its products, a process that will be completed by March 2016. A spokesman for the company told the Washington Post that the decision was made “months ago” in response to “changing consumer and dental professional preferences.” One questions why it should take so long to do this, but with no urgent threat to public health, economic considerations seem to be taking precedence.
“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.” the company said in a statement. “We currently have products without microbeads for those who would prefer them. 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.”
The American Dental Association, which endorses some Crest products, stands behind the beads, citing a lack of clinical evidence questioning their safety. The ADA has not revoked their approval of these products, citing a lack of scientific evidence against them.
The ADA’ s statement is: “The American Dental Association’s (ADA) Council on Scientific Affairs, on an ongoing basis, monitors and evaluates the safety of all ADA Seal-Accepted products. If the council’s evaluation determines sufficient scientific evidence exists that an ADA Seal-Accepted product poses a health risk, the council has the authority to withdraw the Seal from that product. At this time, clinically relevant dental health studies do not indicate that the Seal should be removed from toothpastes that contain polyethylene microbeads.”
Anyway, remember to floss. Floss contains no microbes. So far.
This article is based on one by Abby Philip found in the Washington Post, dated September 14, 2014.