You may be brushing your teeth with plastic. Proctor & Gamble (P&G) puts polyethylene beads in some varieties of their toothpastes “to provide color”.
Polyethylene is plastic. From Crest’s (P&G) website:
Q: What is polyethylene?
A: The small green particle found in the Extreme Herbal Mint flavor of Crest Whitening Expressions is made of polyethylene. It’s a safe, inactive ingredient used to provide color.
Translation: don’t worry about it–it’s just a pretty color. We know you won’t bother to look it up.
Another, more accurate definition:
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“Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is clear, tough, and shatterproof. It provides a barrier to oxygen, water, and carbon dioxide and is identified with the number 1. PET’s ability to contain carbon dioxide (carbonation) makes it ideal for use in carbonated soft drink bottles. Take a look at the bottom of your soft drink bottle and you will most likely find a number 1 there. PET is also used to make bottles for water, juice, sports drinks, beer, mouthwash, catsup, and salad dressing.”
Once the microbead hullaballoo began earlier this year, Crest removed the Question and Answer above and the ingredients listing from the site–but not the ingredient from its toothpastes.
But if you don’t swallow it, what’s the big deal? (No one ever swallows toothpaste, of course, but they put a warning on the label just in case: contact a poison control center immediately…but that’s because of the fluoride, not the plastic.) Well, for starters, you may not swallow it but you can bet: a) kids do, and b) fish do.
Fish? You rinse your mouth with water after brushing, then spit into the sink. The stuff goes down the drain, through the pipes, into the sewer.
The stuff from the sewer may or may not go through a treatment facility. Even if it does, those tiny plastic balls don’t get filtered out and the sewage goes into rivers and oceans.
Some fish still live in those places. Fish don’t know what polyethylene is; they see a pretty little speck and–GULP–a small snack. Problem is, plastic doesn’t digest any better in fish than in humans and their organs are much smaller. Eat enough of it and they die.
People are beginning to see the danger of microbeads.
Back to humans.
Even if you routinely swallow a pea-sized amount of toothpaste with fifty microbeads every time, it probably won’t kill you. But it may cause gum disease and make your teeth fall out. And more.
The plastic beads are so very small that they are getting stuck under the gums and between teeth. The beads trap bacteria; dentists and hygienists are seeing an increasing number of cases of inflammation and infection.
Microbeads are not easy to remove with homecare tools; hygienists can readily pick them out with their dental equipment and they have a better angle than you do at home.
But do you want the little plastic specks festering in your gums for six months (or more) until your next visit?
Gingivitis (inflammation of the gums), if not treated properly, can lead to periodontitis–gum disease. In case you didn’t know, periodontitis is a known cause of erectile dysfunction. Bet that got your attention.
The kicker: the microbeads are just for show.
They don’t clean your teeth or contribute anything positive to dental health–they just make the toothpaste sparkly.
P&G recently announced that it will be removing the microbeads from its toothpastes in response to consumer concern. It still maintains that the polyethylene is harmless but if the customers don’t want it, P&G will stop adding it–by March 2016. Until then, you can find a list of toothpastes that contain polyethylene here.
What else is in there?
We have to say it again: fluoride is a neurotoxin that is causing very bad effects on human health. Its efficacy in preventing dental cavities has always been questionable–it depends on who’s funding the study. Even if you take out the microbeads, you still have fluoride and the following “inactive ingredients”:
“sorbitol, water, hydrated silica, disodium pyrophosphate, sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium hydroxide, flavor, sodium saccharin, xanthan gum, carbomer, polyethylene, mica, titanium dioxide, blue 1 lake”
“Sodium hydroxide is a manufactured chemical. It is present in several domestic cleaning products. Very low levels can produce irritation of the skin and eyes. Exposure to the solid or concentrated liquid can cause severe burns in the eyes, skin, and gastrointestinal tract which may ultimately lead to death.”
Saccharin is a known carcinogen. And from 2006:
“Titanium dioxide has recently been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as an IARC Group 2B carcinogen ‘possibly carcinogen to humans’.”
You can still find it in personal care products. Blue 1 lake? Everyone loves a pretty blue lake–if you can swim in it. The kind on the label is an artificial color:
“Blue 1 lake is chemically synthesized from aromatic hydrocarbons derived from petroleum.”
You get the idea.
Hmmm. These don’t sound like great things to put in your mouth, either. Remember, too, that due to the nature of the tissues of the mouth, substances are absorbed much more readily than elsewhere on the skin.
If you’re interested, there are lots of natural recipes for toothpastes and facial scrubs that are much better alternatives to those being sold with plastic microbeads. They work better, taste better, and are good for you–none of the ingredients are toxic and they won’t hurt any fish. There are always alternatives if you’re sensitive to a particular substance.
No plastic smile here.