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FDA reports tooth damage and choking with Spinbrush

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
electric toothbrush, Spinbrush, FDA advisory, chipped teeth, choking

SILVER SPRING, MD – Injuries have been reported with a brand of electric toothbrush, known as the Spinbrush. Reported injuries include: chipped or broken teeth; cuts to the mouth and gums; swallowing and choking on broken pieces; and injury to the face and eyes.

On February 16, the FDA released and advisory that parts can fly off one type of electric toothbrush and can chip teeth and present a choking hazard. The device in question is the battery-powered Arm & Hammer Spinbrush (before 2009, it was known as the Crest Spinbrush). “It’s important that consumers know how to avoid the risks associated with using the Spinbrush,” noted Shumaya Ali, MPH, a consumer safety officer at the FDA. She added, “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.” “Electric toothbrushes can be very effective in removing dental plaque, and so they can help prevent dental decay and gum disease,” noted Susan Runner, D.D.S., chief of FDA’s dental devices branch. She added, “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.”

Injuries that have been reported from using the Spinbrush toothbrush include: chipped or broken teeth; cuts to the mouth and gums; swallowing and choking on broken pieces; and injury to the face and eyes. The Spinbrush handle contains batteries and a motor that operates the brushes; these brushes are attached to a brush head. In the adult models of Spinbrush the brush head is removable and can be replaced. Ms. Ali noted, however, that the brush head should not pop off during normal usage. She noted that in some instances, the brush head popped off and exposed metal pieces underneath that have been reported to poke individual in the cheek as well as areas near the eyes; thus, causing injuries.

Models designed for children also pose a health hazard. The “Spinbrush for Kids” models, which have different handle designs, such as Spiderman and Thomas & Friends, do not have removable brush heads. However, problems with these models have also been reported. For example, consumers have reported cut lips, burns from the batteries, and bristles falling off and lodging in a child’s tonsils.

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“FDA’s concern is that the unexpected release of any part of this battery-powered toothbrush during use poses a risk of injury,” noted Steven Silverman, director of the Office of Compliance in FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health. He added, “And the risk is higher in children or adults who may need assistance but are not supervised while using the toothbrush.”

In 2011, the FDA inspected Church & Dwight Co. Inc., which manufactures the Spinbrush. Evidence was uncovered that the company had received numerous consumer complaints, which had not been reported to the agency. On May 16, 2011, the FDA warned the company of its violations of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, including failure to report—within a reasonable time frame—serious injuries. After further discussions with Church & Dwight regarding the risks of the battery-powered Spinbrush, the company has taken some actions:

  • Improved the labeling to caution consumers to change the brush head every three months or sooner if the brush is worn or parts are loose.
  • Added bristles that change color with wear to give consumers a visual reminder of when to replace the brush head
  • Issued a safety notice about Spinbrush in television and print ads; the safety notice also appears on the Spinbrush website and the interactive voice response to consumers who call the company’s toll-free telephone numbers. The safety notice reads: Please remember to replace your brush head after 3 months of use, or if the brush is damaged, or if parts become loose. Extended usage, loose parts or excessive wear could lead to brush head breakage, generation of small parts and possible choking hazard. Inspect brush for loose parts before use.
  • Before using the Spinbrush, inspect it for any damage or loose brush bristles. If you find any, do not use the brush. Report it to Church & Dwight, which can be reached toll-free at 1-800-352-3384 or 1-800-561-0752.
  • Make sure the brush head is connected tightly to the brush handle, and test the brush outside of your mouth before using. If the connection feels loose or the brush head easily detaches from the handle, do not use the brush. Report it to Church & Dwight.
  • Use care not to bite down on the brush head while brushing.
  • To prevent injuries, always supervise children and adults who may need assistance when using the Spinbrush.
  • Follow the instructions and recommended replacement guidelines included with the Spinbrush.
  • Report injuries or problems with the Spinbrush to MedWatch—FDA's Safety Information and Adverse Event Reporting Program either online, by regular mail, by fax or by phone.

The following Spinbrush models are included in the FDA advisory:

  • Spinbrush ProClean
  • Spinbrush ProClean Recharge
  • Spinbrush Pro Whitening
  • Spinbrush SONIC
  • Spinbrush SONIC Recharge
  • Spinbrush Swirl
  • Spinbrush Classic Clean
  • Spinbrush For Kids
  • Spinbrush Replacement Heads

Take Home Message: In my opinion, electric toothbrushes are superior to hand brushing for removing plaque and removing food particles from between the teeth. It would be prudent to purchase another product not associated with Sprinbrush’s problems. One excellent product, which has no reported problems is Sonicare, manufactured by Phillips.


See Also: Hazardous substances reported to be components of toothpaste