Your toothpaste may be full of plastic.
Earlier this year, Phoenix dental hygienist Trish Walraven began noticing tiny blue dots trapped in the spaces between the teeth and gums of her patients.
"I thought it was maybe a cleaning product, or something people were chewing," Walraven told WCYB 5 News in Virginia. "Some weeks I'll see [it in] five or six patients."
WGN reports that, "after further investigation and consultation with colleagues, she discovered that the dots were polyethylene, a plastic with many uses," like garbage containers, grocery bags, bulletproof vests and even knee replacements.
And it's terrible for your teeth.
"They'll trap bacteria in the gums which leads to gingivitis," dentist Justin Phillips told WCYB Five News. "Over time that'll move from your gums to the bones that move your teeth in, which becomes periodontal disease," which causes major damage to the soft tissue and bones in patients' mouths.
The saddest part? Polyethylene microbeads are FDA-approved as a food additive.
"It is used primarily for containers and packaging… and has been a concern for the environment because polyethylene lasts practically forever and isn’t biodegradable," said Walraven. “It only breaks down into smaller and smaller particles until you can’t see it anymore.”
Alarmed by her discovery, Walraven wrote a scathing blog post accusing Crest of "embedding plastic in our gums," accompanied with some disturbing graphics:
"According to Crest: Polyethylene plastic is in your toothpaste for decorative purposes only," wrote Walraven at the time. "This is unacceptable not only to me, but to many, many hygienists nationwide. We are informing our patients. We are doing research separately and comparing notes. And until Procter & Gamble [which manufactures Crest toothpaste] gives us a better reason as to why there is plastic in your toothpaste, we would like you to consider discontinuing the use of these products."
Walraven may get her wish. New York and California had already moved in February to ban beauty products with microbeads due to health concerns, but Procter & Gamble, announced Wednesday that the company is making major changes to several of its products following national attention to Walraven's post.
“While the ingredient in question is … 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,” company officials told ABC7 Detroit in a statement. “So we will.”
Unilever and Colgate-Palmolive have joined P&G in a pledge to start phasing microbeads out of their products. P&G says all of their products will be microbead-free by March 2016.
Despite the efforts of dental hygienists like Walraven, however, the American Dental Association won't remove its 'ADA Seal of Acceptance' from toothpaste products that contain polyethelene microbeads. "The Council will continue to monitor and evaluate new scientific information on this issue as it becomes available," the ADA said in a statement on Tuesday. "In the meantime, the ADA recommends that individuals continue to follow the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) recommendations on the use of dental health care products.
Raising awareness about microbeads in consumer products is a step in the right direction. After all, what's the point of buying toothpaste if it destroys your mouth?
Editors Note: Mar. 3, 2015
An earlier version of this article failed to cite a passage from WGN in accordance with Mic editorial standards. The article has been updated to properly attribute the language to WGN.