Ouch! FDA Warns an Electric Toothbrush Might Break Your Teeth

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Your toothbrush is supposed to help you maintain those pearly whites, not chip them or cut up your gums.

On Thursday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning to consumers about the battery-powered Arm & Hammer Spinbrush, formerly known as the Crest Spinbrush before 2009. The agency said it had received reports of parts of the toothbrush breaking off at high speeds during use, resulting in chipped or broken teeth, choking hazards, swallowed pieces, cut gums and injuries to face and eyes.

Here’s the low-down: All models of the Spinbrush, manufactured by Church & Dwight Co. Inc., can cause injury according to the FDA. The brand comes in both adult and child models including: Spinbrush ProClean; Spinbrush ProClean Recharge; Spinbrush Pro Whitening; Spinbrush SONIC; Spinbrush SONIC Recharge; Spinbrush Swirl; Spinbrush Classic Clean, and Spinbrush for Kids.

The adult models have replaceable heads, which have been reported to pop off during use causing facial damage. “In some cases, the brush head popped off to expose metal pieces underneath that can — and have — poked individuals in the cheek and areas near the eyes, causing injuries,” said Shumaya Ali, FDA’s consumer safety officer, in the agency statement.

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The children’s models do not have removable heads, but injuries have still been reported, such such as cut lips, battery burns and bristles falling off and lodging in tonsils.

“We are particularly concerned about the problems with these toothbrushes as they appear to be geared towards children,” Dr. Susan Runner, branch chief for Dental Devices in the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health told MSNBC (the toothbrushes come in Spiderman and Thomas & Friends designs). “The hazards that have been reported are potentially very serious, and parents should be aware of helping young children with tooth brushing both for safety reasons and for assuring adequacy of brushing.”

During an investigation last year, the FDA found that Church & Dwight Co Inc. had received several consumer complaints about the toothbrushes, but had not reported them to the agency. The FDA sent a warning letter, and the company responded by taking actions such as improving its labeling to caution users to change the brush head every three months or sooner if the brush is worn or parts are loose, adding color-changing bristles that remind users to swap the brush head, and issuing a TV and print safety notice warning consumers that failing to replace the brush head could lead to injury.

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In Thursday’s warning, the FDA advises parents, caregivers and consumers to inspect the Spinbrush for damage to bristles and handle. It also advises users never to bite down on the brush head and carefully follow all replacement guidelines. If the brush head or handle are loose, the brush should not be used and consumers should report it to the manufacturer at 800-352-3384 or 800-561-0752.

There’s no need to write off battery-operated brushes for good. The FDA says they are very effective in removing plaque and preventing tooth decay and gum disease. But extended usage of the Spinbrush, loose parts or excessive wear could result in breakage of the brush head during use. So, just add a bit more vigilance to your morning routine.