Plastic Packaging and Your Children’s Teeth
Parents will do anything to take care of their kids and help them develop strong, healthy teeth. Of course, this objective can be frustrating when the list of things to avoid seems to grow longer every day. Sorry, Mom and Dad, but it’s time to add another to the list: Bisphenol A (or BPA), a chemical commonly found in plastic packaging for food and drinks.
Many parents are already aware of the risks associated with BPA. Scientists and public health officials have been aware for a while that prolonged exposure to BPA can negatively impact health, which is why reusable water bottles and other plastic products designed for repeated usage are often manufactured without the chemical. But new research shows that in order to prevent problems with tooth development, it’s best to avoid all products containing BPA until kids are over five years old.
What is BPA?
Despite the number of products advertised as being BPA-free, this chemical is everywhere in our lives. It’s used to harden plastics during manufacturing, and can be found in water bottles, food packaging, compact discs, medical devices and more. WebMD estimates that over 90% of humans have BPA in their bodies at any given time. It’s commonly absorbed when we consume foods or drinks that were held in packaging containing BPA, but we can also be exposed to it through air, dust and water.
Studies have linked higher amounts of BPA in the body to hormone disruption, increased risk of cancers, behavioral problems, and heart problems. However, most studies have not been conclusive, and indicated that common low-level exposure is not harmful to humans.
How Does it Affect Tooth Development?
New research has focused on BPA’s potential to cause hormone disruption. Hormones in our body stimulate the growth of tooth enamel from our time in the womb until we are five years old. During this time, studies on rats have indicated, exposure to BPA can interfere with these hormones and prevent children from growing healthy, strong enamel — the hard outer covering that protects our teeth from damage.
The condition known as molar incisor hypermineralization (MIH) can result from poorly developed tooth enamel. This means that a child’s first permanent teeth can grow in with sensitive spots that are prone to cavities. The most concerning part of these findings is that since enamel does not re-grow like bone does, damage caused by early BPA exposure will be permanent.
Staying away from BPA is certainly difficult, considering the chemical’s prevalence. But it can be done! Avoid canned products (BPA can be used in the lining of canned goods) and plastic packaging whenever possible. Glass, ceramic and stainless steel containers are safer alternatives, but buying produce and meat fresh is your best bet. Always keep an eye out for the “BPA free” label, too — but remember that while the lack of the chemical will be labeled, products that do contain it generally will not be.
Luckily, the controversy surrounding BPA is spurring manufacturers into action. Cambell’s Soup has announced that it will phase the chemical out of its cans completely by mid 2017, and as public pressure grows, other companies are likely to follow suit.