There’s a tiny toothpaste ingredient that is causing a huge uproar in the dental industry, and it seems that many just can’t agree about the proper course of action. Recently, dental professionals have drawn attention to polyethylene microbeads, those tiny blue bits that are found in several popular toothpaste brands, such as Crest, after noticing that beads were becoming embedded in the gums of many of their patients. In response to the negative attention, Proctor and Gamble, manufacturer of Crest toothpaste, said that while the ingredient has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), they are planning to remove them in the next year and a half. In fact, they say that the majority of their products will be microbead-free by March 2015, according to a recent Today article. Problem solved, right? Maybe not.
According to the FDA, they have never approved microbeads to be put in toothpaste, which they consider to be an over-the-counter drug. Their policy on polyethylene is that it is allowed to come in contact with food, but there has never been a ruling that states it is safe to consume. Plus, the microbeads are not considered an active ingredient in toothpaste, which means the FDA doesn’t monitor it. FDA spokesman, Jeff Ventura, claims that “manufacturers have the responsibility to ensure that all inactive ingredients are safe and suitable for their intended use.” And while polyethylene is approved for use in several indirect or food contact applications, it is not approved as a direct addition to food. It appears as if P&G and the FDA are pointing their fingers at each other in a game of “who’s to blame,” both washing their hands of accepting any responsibility.
Another industry heavyweight, the American Dental Association (ADA) is also voicing their opinion on the matter. In a statement released to the public, the ADA made it known that they see no harm in the use of microbeads in toothpaste products. “At this time, clinically relevant dental health studies do not indicate that the Seal should be removed from toothpastes that contain polyethylene microbeads,” the statement says. It further claims that “Polyethylene microbeads are commonly used as scrub beads, such as in exfoliating products, but are also sometimes used in chewing gum and toothpaste, as part of the product design.”They plan to continue to monitor and evaluate any new scientific information on this issue and will act accordingly if need be. Products carrying the ADA Seal have been independently evaluated for safety and effectiveness by the ADA Council on Scientific Affairs. So, the jury is still out. Are the microbeads safe? You’ll have to come up with your own opinion on that one, apparently.