Many health and beauty products contain plastic microbeads for their gentle abrasive effect. The beads are pervasive in face and body washes for exfoliation purposes. They are made of the same material used to manufacture plastic grocery bags, garbage bags and lightweight water bottles.
Dentists are speaking out against microbeads because these little pieces of plastic are included in many common types of toothpaste simply to provide decorative color. The beads may actually lead to gum irritation and gum disease. They also cause problems for waste water treatment facilities and private septic systems.
The Microbead Problem: Dental Health
If any plastic beads become stuck beneath the gum line, you might never know it until a dental hygienist mentions it or a dentist diagnoses you with gingivitis, the early stage of gum disease. The beads can trap bacteria that irritate the gums.
The plastic doesn't dissolve, so the beads stay in the gums unless something dislodges them. In some cases, they may come out during flossing. Otherwise, a dental hygienist will remove them along with tartar that has built up beneath the gums.
The Microbead Problem: Waste Water
Some treatment plants don't have advanced filtration systems that can catch these tiny beads. The particles also can flush out into waterways when facilities overflow during heavy rain. That can be harmful to fish, birds and other wildlife. In addition, the beads can ruin private septic systems if enough of them escape into the drain field.
How to Know if Toothpaste Has Microbeads
The ingredient list on the box or tube will mention microbeads, polypropylene or polyethylene. You also typically can see the beads as little flecks of color that's a different hue from the paste or gel. There might be dark blue speckles in light blue gel, for instance, or red speckles in white paste.
From both a dental and an environmental standpoint, it's best to avoid using any products containing plastic microbeads. For an expert opinion, ask the dental hygienist and dentist what they think about microbeads the next time you have a professional teeth cleaning. If you've been using toothpaste or gel containing this material, find out whether the hygienist discovers plastic flecks in your gums.
There are plenty of other toothpastes and gels on the market that don't contain plastic and do just as good a job of cleaning teeth. Dental professionals generally advise patients to use products containing fluoride and that have the American Dental Association seal of approval. For more information on current dental trends, contact a company like Comfort Dental.