What Are Those Little Blue Dots?
Last year I began noticing that my patients were presenting with tiny (less than 1mm) blue “dots” or “balls” in interproximal spaces or within the sulcus. These little blue dots appeared to be hard and when removed, retained their shape. When I questioned patients about this – did they chew a certain type of gum, were they eating a candy of some sort – they could not think of what might be the source of these dots. The dots were sometimes hard to remove and could sometimes become trapped, requiring the use of the ultrasonic to dislodge them. After some research I discovered that hygienists around the U.S. had been noticing the beads. Some patients had also been using social media to discuss the fact that “dark blue spots” had appeared suddenly underneath their gums. These could be seen when they smiled and were difficult or impossible for them to remove on their own.
After a while the answer became apparent. All of these patients were using various types of Crest toothpaste! It turns out that for quite some time Proctor and Gamble has been placing polyethylene (plastic) microbeads into their toothpastes as an enhancement to appearance. Polyethylene is a plastic found in containers and products of many types, like garbage bags and disposable bottles. Like all things plastic, the beads do not just disappear. They last and last.
Not only is polyethylene being included in toothpaste, but the beads are turning up in such things as face scrubs and beauty products manufactured by many others as well. While there have been no definitive studies performed to determine if the beads are causing dental problems, the fact is that the plastic can be left behind in the teeth and tissues after brushing and flossing. Not only that, but the beads are being washed into our streams, rivers and oceans, with consequences that are still unknown. A couple of short pieces have appeared on television concerning this issue, but for the most part this problem has gone relatively unnoticed by the general public.
After some complaints were registered, Crest announced in August of 2014 that although they know the “microbeads are completely safe”, they are phasing them out of their products anyway. All Crest products are going to be microbead free by early 2016.
Here is their statement from Tumblr “Frequently Asked Questions About Microbeads.”
What are Microbeads?
Is it (sic) Safe?
My Note: According to an FDA spokesman, Jeff Ventura, on the Today Health and Wellness website, Sept. 18, 2014; “By definition, food additives are for an intended use in food. Toothpaste is regulated as a drug product and is not considered food. Polyethylene is approved for use in several indirect or food contact applications, but not for direct addition to food.”
As affirmed by the American Dental Association, clinically relevant dental health studies do not indicate that the ADA Seal should be removed from toothpastes that contain polyethylene microbeads. Products with the ADA Seal have been independently evaluated for safety and effectiveness by the ADA Council on Scientific Affairs.
Why are Microbeads in the toothpaste in the first place?
My Note: Several states have already issued deadlines for microbeads in products.
Are Microbeads in All Crest Toothpastes?
Why are you removing microbeads from toothpaste?
For more information concerning polyethylene and beauty products, check out the Google information under “microbeads” and “polyethylene”. The ADA has also included a statement concerning microbeads on their website. In the meantime, you can keep an eye out for the little blue dots. Your patients are depending on you.
Carol Tekavec RDH is the Director of Hygiene for McKenzie Management. Carol can improve your hygiene department in just one day of training “in your office.” Interested in knowing more about how to improve your hygiene department? Email email@example.com.
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