CINCINNATI - Procter & Gamble is making major changes to several of its products after a dental hygienist said she noticed something strange in her patients' mouths.
Trish Walraven said she spotted little blue specks in the gum lines of her patients a few years ago. For a while, she said she had no idea what she was dealing with.
“We thought it was a cleaning product or something people were chewing,” she said.
Walraven said she started asking around, and she soon found other hygienists that were seeing it too.
It took several weeks, but Walraven said she finally figured out what it was: polyethylene.
She said polyethylene is a plastic used in several products like garbage containers, grocery bags, bulletproof vests and even knee replacements.
It’s also in some toothpaste products.
“It is used primarily for containers and packaging… and has been a concern for the environment because polyethylene lasts practically forever and isn’t biodegradable,” Walraven said. “It only breaks down into smaller and smaller particles until you can’t see it anymore.”
Earlier this year, New York and California each introduced bills to ban the plastic microbeads from body scrubs and dental products.
Walraven said Crest, manufactured by Cincinnati’s P&G, appeared to use the plastic in its products more than any other toothpaste brand on the market.
“Pretty much everyone was saying that they were using some form of Crest toothpaste,” Walraven said.
Florence, Kentucky dentist Dr. Brian Moore said the microbeads get trapped in your gums, causing more bacteria to enter.
He said he has seen several patients with "little blue-green fleck" below their gum lines.
"If it was left in there, it could potentially cause some gingival irritation," Moore said. "Any time you have any foreign body in the pocket around the tooth, it's a breeding ground for bacteria."
Walraven said using toothpastes with microbeads can lead to even bigger problems like periodontal disease.
“Around our teeth we have these little channels in our gums, sort of like the cuticles around our fingernails,” she said. “A healthy (gum channel) is no deeper than about 3 millimeters, so when you have hundreds of pieces of plastic being scrubbed into your gums each day that are even smaller than a millimeter, many of them are getting trapped.”
Walraven said she wants the ingredient gone, and has written a blog about the issue.
“Polyethylene plastic is in your toothpaste for decorative purposes only,” she said. “This is unacceptable not only to me, but to many, many hygienists nationwide.”
After a spreading nationally, Walraven's blog caught the attention of P&G.
P&G officials said in a statement to WCPO sister station ABC15 the ingredient is safe and approved by the FDA -- but they understand Walraven’s concerns.
“While the ingredient in question is… part of an enjoyable brushing experience for millions of consumers with no issues, we understand there is a growing preference for us to remove this ingredient,” company officials said. “So we will.”
A spokesperson for P&G said the company currently sells products with no microbeads for those who would prefer brushing without it. P&G has also begun removing microbeads from the rest of its toothpastes.
“The majority of our product volume will be microbead-free within six months,” the spokesperson said. “We will complete our removal process by March of 2016.”
According to Walraven, the following toothpastes include polyethylene as an ingredient.
To read Walraven’s blog, click here .
This isn't the first time P&G's ingredients were called into question. In March, Greenpeace activists slipped into the consumer products giant's downtown Cincinnati headquarters and displayed huge banners criticizing palm oil supplies, claiming they were linked to deforestation.
Company officials later pledged to work with palm oil suppliers and farmers in Indonesia to ensure rainforests aren’t destroyed. They said the company will
require suppliers to submit plans that “demonstrate how they will ensure no deforestation in the supply chain for their mills by 2020.”