Microbeads to Be Phased Out in 2017
In recent years, water and marine scientists have been warning consumers about plastic microbeads found in samples taken from the San Francisco Bay and other bodies of water worldwide. The source of these tiny microbeads comes from the drainpipes of millions of consumers using products they think are not only useful, but also beneficial to health. Nevertheless, once these microbeads make it to rivers and oceans, they are easily mistaken as food by fish and animals. As a result, Congress passed a law this year with bipartisan support banning the use of microbeads in personal cleansers and dental health products 2018, with a phase out starting in mid-2017. Until that time, you may still see toothpastes with microbeads, especially if they are imported from outside the United States. How can you determine if your toothpaste contains these potentially harmful plastics?
Look for Polyethylene
The ingredient to look for on the label is polyethylene. If you see this in a chewing gum or toothpaste as an “inactive ingredient,” the product contains microbeads. When microbeads were first added to provide color or exfoliating action, there were no negative scientific articles against their use in toothpaste or cleansers. Even the American Dental Association said: “At this time, clinically relevant dental health studies do not indicate that the Seal [of Approval] should be removed from toothpastes that contain polyethylene microbeads.”
Regardless, some dental patients and hygienists reported finding the beads stuck underneath gums and between teeth. The Placerville Dental Group has always advised that it’s not a good idea to put “foreign objects” inside your mouth for fear of damage to the teeth and soft tissues, so we have never advised using dental products containing microbeads. They do not provide any added health benefit to consumers. Therefore, the unknown potential for harm from microbeads is greater than the potential for benefit. Thus, Congress taking action against microbeads for the sake of the environment was prudent. Consider just this one statistic from The Washington Post: in 2015, 808 billion microbeads were daily washed down drains across the United States. Of these, 8 billion were estimated to reach national waterways. Although these beads may be tiny, hundreds of trillions of them in our sewage treatment plants, rivers, lakes and estuaries amounts to nothing more than garbage across the landscape. So until the ban takes full effect next year, it is up to our patients to avoid products with polyethylene in the ingredient list.