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What are the microbeads used in toothpaste and are they safe?

Toothpaste with microbeadsThis question was submitted by a general dentist: A patient recently asked me about Microplastic/Microbead used in Oral Care products. Would you have any information?

To answer this question, the JCDA Oasis Team contacted Dr. Leslie Winston DDS, PhD, at Procter & Gamble (P&G). She provided the following quick initial response.



  • The colored Polyethylene (PE) specks used in Oral Care applications are safe, FDA-approved food additives. They are used in chewing gums and are commonly used in toothpastes. They are small particles made of polyethylene. They are colored with FDA approved dyes.
  • In Canada, Health Canada validates the safety of oral health products. Health Canada has determined the colored polyethylene specks used in some oral care products are safe to ingest.  There are no safety concerns with the limited use of polyethylene specks in some toothpastes.
  • Please check back with this post for more information as updates become available.

Additional Information

What happens if microbeads are swallowed? Are they safe?

Polyethylene is biologically inert and as such, it is accepted as a safe material by safety authorities around the world for many uses in our daily lives including food packaging and food additives. PE specks are made of inert material and are used in chewing gums and toothpastes. PE specks are not absorbed by the body and the body will not break them down. They will pass through the digestive tract unchanged, similar to dietary fibers. Toothpaste should be used as directed, but even with some accidental ingestion, these PE speck ingredients pose no safety risk. 

How can a professional clear a patient’s mouth of PE specks?

Polyethylene is biologically inert, not absorbed by the body, and the body doesn’t make enzymes to break them down. The specks will pass through the digestive tract unchanged, similar to dietary fibers. Toothpaste should be used as directed, but even with some accidental ingestion, these PE speck ingredients pose no safety risk. A patient’s normal oral care routine of brushing, flossing, and rinsing with water or mouth rinse should help clear the mouth of inert PE specks.

Do other toothpastes contain PE specks?

Yes.  Many toothpaste manufacturers produce toothpastes that contain polyethylene, and several new products have been introduced in the past five years alone.  In fact, more than 200 new polyethylene-containing toothpastes have been introduced in 43 countries by more than 15 manufacturers worldwide. The PE specks used in some P&G toothpastes in limited quantities will be replaced as soon as alternatives are qualified.  

Why is polyethylene used in oral care products?

Polyethylene beads are commonly used as scrub beads (e.g. in exfoliating products) but are also sometimes used to impart color, like in chewing gum and toothpaste, as part of the holistic product design. 

Do you have any particular question on this topic? Do you have any comments or suggestions? Email us at oasisdiscussions@cda-adc.ca

You are invited to comment on this post and provide further insights by posting in the comment box which you will find by clicking on “Post a reply” below. You are welcome to remain anonymous and your email address will not be posted.


  1. These must be the same plastic beads used in cosmetics that are loading up the great lakes and oceans altering their ecology. They should be banned entirely because of their impact on the environment and ecology of aquatic systems. Thanks for the information.


  3. It may be “all well and good” that these beads do not break down or get resorbed,but what happens once it is expectorated,and gone into the sewage systems and the environment?
    That is all we need, is to have more plastic in the environment!
    Have studies been done to see if it has an effect in the breathing of fish and other aquatic life? Whatever happened to good old fashioned pumice?
    I recall this use of plastic beads was a controversial subject in the late 80’s (when I was in Dental School) in Europe,where this material was being used.
    I would like a list of all products that have these beads so that I and my patients can make an informed product choice.

  4. The other factor is, how safe is it when these things get stuck under the gumline? I bet no studies were done regarding safety from that aspect.
    When it comes to FDA approval, it is a bit of a joke. Companies like Crest can get FDA approval for a product based on the ingredients being deemed “safe” without the formula ever being tested. Despite the fact that mixing things creates new things that may very well be reactive (Crest Pro-Health toothpaste has a known issue with this).
    Ultimately, the plastic serves no functional purpose, even Crest admits it is for cosmetic reasons. There are too many needless ingredients being put into hygiene products these days without regard to health and safety, rather a focus strictly on marketing. The only way this ends if we stand up. I encourage my patients to use more natural products and specify specific products they should avoid and why. Just because a company got the FDA stamp of approval does not mean a product is safe. It just means they don’t know it will cause harm at this point in time, or that it will not cause harm directly. There is the indirect harm, and future harm to consider which some companies are completely disregarding in order to make a buck.

  5. I agree these microbeads need to be banned. Does it really matter how pretty and colourful the toothpaste looks. Do these companies really believe people buy their product because of the esthetic design? It has been found In the Great Lakes and has a negative impact on our environment. We need to think about the impact on future generations.

  6. Sorry Leslie but this response is a joke. P&G has already pledged to remove microbeads from their products by 2017. This is not good enough. There is already massive amounts of microplastics in the great lakes and oceans. It is a pollutant that cannot be removed and we simply do not yet know the damage to the environment it may cause.
    For more research info see: http://beatthemicrobead.org/en/science
    I inform my patients of the problem and P&G should act responsibly right now and not wait until 2017. BE A LEADER

  7. I couldn’t agree more. We are permanently altering our environment in an unknown way through the use of these. It is time for humans to stop experimenting with our environment. When asked about toothpaste, I presently do not suggest one over the other, but if Proctor & Gamble would take the lead by eliminating their use NOW, I would recommend their products over others.

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