You’ll find it at grocery stores and pharmacies here and nationwide: certain varieties of Crest toothpaste flecked with tiny specks of blue. The specks, which are used to add color, are actually non-biodegradable beads made of polyethylene, a substance also found in face washes, body scrubs and lotions. Because you can’t get them out of the water supply, lawmakers in New York, Illinois and elsewhere have voted to ban them. And you can’t get them out of your mouth either, or at least not easily. Dental professionals are increasingly finding microbeads lodged in patients’ gums and between teeth.
It was Trish Walraven, a Dallas dental hygienist, who first brought widespread attention to the issue on her blog last year. “I’d talk to dentists about it, and they’d say they were finding it all over the place,” she said. “It was stuck in people’s mouths, and they’d have no idea. So when I asked them whether they thought it’d be something worth writing about, they were all like, yes.” So she blogged about the beads, which are found in more than a dozen Crest toothpastes, including Crest 3D White and Crest Pro-Health.
“I’ve been seeing these blue particles flush out of patients’ gums for several months now,” she wrote. “So has the co-hygienist in our office. So have many dental hygienists throughout the United States and Canada who have consulted with each other and realized that we have a major concern on our hands.”
When the post went up, Walraven says, “The reaction was immediate. At one point, we reached 70,000 hits in a single day.” As word spread, Crest decided to take action, telling the Washington Post that although the microbeads were safe—something the American Dental Association seconded—the company would begin phasing them out because of “changing consumer and dental professional preferences.” The company has stated that it has already begun removing polyethylene microbeads, and that all Crest products will be microbead-free by March of next year.
Until then, if you don’t want those blue plastic beads accumulating inside your mouth, the best weapon is education. “The fact that people are aware of the problem in these products in enough,” says Walraven.