Zinc Levels In Poligrip Scrutinized Until very recently, the denture adhesive Super Poligrip contained high levels of zinc — enough, scientists say, to cause neurological damage in people who used too much of it. Host Linda Wertheimer talks to New York Times columnist David Leonhardt about why the product remained on the shelves for so long.
NPR logo

Zinc Levels In Poligrip Scrutinized

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/125561507/125561484" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Zinc Levels In Poligrip Scrutinized

Zinc Levels In Poligrip Scrutinized

Zinc Levels In Poligrip Scrutinized

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/125561507/125561484" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Until very recently, the denture adhesive Super Poligrip contained high levels of zinc — enough, scientists say, to cause neurological damage in people who used too much of it. Host Linda Wertheimer talks to New York Times columnist David Leonhardt about why the product remained on the shelves for so long.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, Host:

Unidentified Woman: At last, I'm eating a carrot. Thanks to Super Poligrip with its new, ultra-hold formula.

(SOUNDBITE OF ADVERTISEMENT)

WERTHEIMER: Columnist David Leonhardt wrote about this recently for the New York Times. Welcome to the program.

DAVID LEONHARDT: Thank you, thanks for having me.

WERTHEIMER: Could you just explain to us why this product is connected to nerve damage?

LEONHARDT: When you get too much zinc, it can lead your body to have a copper deficiency, and that, in turn, can lead to neurological damage, and that seems to be what has happened here. Customers who have used significant amounts of this cream have developed really severe neurological problems. In one case, there appears to be a death that was tied to use of these creams.

WERTHEIMER: Now, the folks who are suing the companies that produce denture adhesives containing zinc, wouldn't it be fair to say that very likely, most of them are older? Is it clear that denture adhesive is the main cause of their infirmities, of their nerve damage?

LEONHARDT: He didn't know why they had the levels, and then he tested them. It turned out all 11 of them had elevated levels of zinc because they were using large amounts of this denture cream. He told me that really surprised him. He didn't expect to see all 11, but it seems to be one of the main causes of people having too much zinc in their system.

WERTHEIMER: Is this a question of misusing the product, of slathering on the adhesive?

LEONHARDT: And there were not very explicit directions on these products about how much to use even when evidence began to emerge very clearly that these creams were causing the problem, and that really started in 2008.

WERTHEIMER: For best results, start with a small amount. That's not exactly a really clear warning.

WERTHEIMER: So David Leonhardt, here's what I don't understand. This is an old product. I mean, I can remember those - these commercials about sticking your dentures down going on for years. How come it's just now becoming an issue?

LEONHARDT: Now, I don't think we should have needed all this science to tell us that a product with very high levels of zinc, which this cream had, would likely have caused these series of problems because much of the science was there, but the companies didn't take particularly strong action, and they relied on consumers to get it right. Most did, but some significant number appeared not to have gotten it right. And it does make you wonder more broadly whether we are taking these sorts of toxic risks seriously enough and whether we have strong enough regulatory oversight of companies because this is just one example - lead in paint, mercury in tuna, now zinc in denture cream - in which companies have not been all that aggressive about protecting consumer safety.

WERTHEIMER: David Leonhardt is a columnist for the New York Times. Thank you very much for joining us.

LEONHARDT: Thank you.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.