Tiny bubbles: I-Team uncovers plastic microbeads in toothpaste

ByChuck Goudie and Christine Tressel WLS logo
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
I-Team uncovers plastic microbeads in toothpaste
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The I-Team has found that your toothpaste may contain tiny plastic particles that could become lodged in your gum line.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The I-Team investigated plastic in some toothpastes - an ingredient that most people have no idea is there - and there are questions about how it might affect your dental health.

The I-Team has found that your toothpaste may contain tiny plastic particles that could become lodged in your gum line.

"I noticed these blue spots underneath my gums and I'm like, 'Oh My God, what's going on?'" said Ada Garcia.

Garcia was stunned to find out it was tiny bits of plastic stuck between her gums and teeth.

"It was uncomfortable I could feel them, stuck up there," said Garcia.

Garcia, a dental assistant, was even more surprised to learn the plastic microbeads were coming from her toothpaste.

Lule Jusufi's says 20 percent of the patients at her Chicago dental practice are showing up with the embedded beads. Most don't feel them and are clueless they are there.

"I don't like the fact it is getting buried in the gum line, I worry more this it could turn into a periodontal defect that your body could respond to a foreign object and cause inflammation," said Dr. Jusufi.

Other professionals are seeing it, too.

"It's hard to say how long it's actually stays in the gums but I'm finding it in there. I'm seeing it," said Dominika Majerczyk, a dental hygienist at DiVerde Dental Studio.

Seeing them can be difficult, but here they are floating in water. From this small amount of toothpaste, these are the plastic particles that the I-Team strained out.

They're made of polyethylene, the same plastic used to make bottles and grocery bags. Manufacturers tell us the particles are added to make some toothpaste look more appealing, but there is no cleaning benefit.

The FDA determined this ingredient safe for use in personal care products, including toothpaste.

Dentists we talked with have not yet seen any medical problems such as infection, but they're advising patients to find alternatives.

"We are not really happy because it's non-biodegradable product and we don't think it's appropriate to be used in the mouth," said Dr. Richard DiVerde, dentist at DiVerde Dental Studio.

The I-Team contacted two major manufacturers. The maker of Colgate says it's products no longer contain microplastics. Crest brand does have toothpastes with microbeads, including Crest ProHealth and 3D White.

Procter and Gamble, the manufacturer, says all of its products are completely safe and used by millions with no issue.

"We understand there is a growing preference for us to remove this ingredient. So we will," a company spokesperson said in an e-mail.

In an email, a company spokesperson says many of its products will be microbead-free within six months, and all products free of the plastics by March 2016.

"We were surprised that the personal care products companies were actually willing to negotiate and change the way they were going to formulate their products," said State Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago 7th District.

Her legislation banning plastic particles recently became law in Illinois - thought to be the first in the world - but it doesn't go into effect here until 2017.

That troubles environmentalists, who say the non-biodegradable particles also found in soaps and facial scrubs- go down the drain and pile up in waterways, including Lake Michigan.

"The Illinois law gives way too many concessions and the concessions allow for the continuation of using microbeads that have the same harmful effects on waterways and lakes," said Marcus Eriksen, Ph.D., director of research at 5 Gyres Institute.

The Alliance for the Great Lakes says it's still a step in the right direction, and the Personal Care Products Council representing hundreds of cosmetic companies says the Illinois law is fair and gives a reasonable amount of time for companies to reformulate their products.

If you prefer to avoid the plastics now, environmentalists say to look for either polyethylene or polypropylene listed under ingredients or inactive ingredients, which is typically printed on the box.