Popular battery-powered "spinning" toothbrushes may do more harm than good, chipping teeth, slashing gums, and causing facial injuries instead of merely keeping cavities at bay.
In a statement issued Thursday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned that pieces of the Arm & Hammer brand Spinbrush (known as the Crest Spinbrush until 2009) could detach, causing a choking hazard and injuries to the face and mouth.
"It's important that consumers know how to avoid the risks associated with using the Spinbrush," Shumaya Ali, M.P.H., a consumer safety officer at the Food and Drug Administration, said in the statement. "We've had reports in which parts of the toothbrush broke off during use and were released into the mouth with great speed, causing broken teeth and presenting a choking hazard."
Though the warning specifically involves all versions of the adult and child-size Spinbrush, the FDA says that any electric toothbrushes should be used with extreme care.
"Electric toothbrushes can be very effective in removing dental plaque, and so they can help prevent dental decay and gum disease," said Susan Runner, chief of FDA's dental devices branch. "At the same time, it's important to supervise children when they use these brushes, and to look out for any malfunctions of the toothbrush that might cause an injury." The Spinbrush is made up of a handle (where the batteries and motor are located) and a removable brush head. Spinbrush injuries reported to the FDA include chipped and broken teeth, cuts to the mouth and gums, swallowing broken pieces, choking on broken pieces, and injuries to the face and eyes caused by broken pieces.
"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," the FDA warned.
The child-size version of the Spinbrush, which have blank handles that children can decorate with stickers and other versions with Spiderman and Thomas the Tank Engine themes, do not have removable brush heads, but incidents of cut lips, burns from the batteries, and bristles that fall off and get stuck in a child's tonsils have been reported.
According to the FDA report, the manufacturer of the Spinbrush -- Church & Dwight Co., Inc. -- has had several complaints about the product that were not reported to the FDA. In response to the latest warnings, Church & Dwight Co., Inc. issued a safety notice online and in advertisements for the Spinbrush, and asked consumers to change their brush heads every three months or sooner if the brush seems worn.
"There have been a small number of adverse event reports involving minor injury," the company told the Washington Post. "But it is important to consider the relatively low incidence of these adverse event reports." They pointed out that nearly 40 million Spinbrushes have been sold in the past two years, and added that the injuries "were the result of the product being used well beyond its recommended life or [from] consumer misuse."
The FDA also suggests that parents and caregivers inspect their own and their children's spinning toothbrushes before each use, supervise children while they are brushing their teeth, and avoid biting down on the bristles while they're moving.