Admitting Guilt on Deadly Denture Cream

04/21/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

In 2008, Rodney Urbanek, a healthy 63-year-old Miami man began having trouble walking. Within months, he was paralyzed below the waist and confined to a wheelchair. Rodney was unable to move his limbs and, eventually, unable to get out of bed. His condition worsened and his paralysis extended to his diaphragm, which ultimately led to his death in May 2008. What led to Rodney's symptoms and eventual death? His denture adhesive, Poligrip.

Just months after Rodney's death, a groundbreaking study published in the medical journal Neurology established a connection between the zinc found in popular denture adhesives brands and serious nerve damage. The study showed that patients who used heavy amounts of denture cream suffered zinc overload, which can purge the body of copper, a mineral needed for healthy brain and nervous system function. Copper deficiency can cause anemia, weakness, numbness in the limbs, difficulty walking and permanent paralysis.

Although the body requires small amounts of zinc to fight illnesses and promote cell growth, some denture-wearers were unknowingly consuming nearly forty-five times or more of the recommended daily dosage. The National Institutes of Health recommend between 8-11 milligrams of zinc per day. Poligrip contains 38 milligrams of zinc per gram of the adhesive. Unbeknownst to him, Rodney Urbanek had been consuming these dangerously high levels of zinc for over 14 years.

And with no warning on the packaging, Rodney Urbanek had no way of knowing how much zinc he was ingesting. He was simply trying to keep his dentures secure so he could chew his food and look good for his wife.

Facing over a hundred lawsuits over its failure to warn consumers of the risks associated with its products, GlaxoSmithKline announced February 18 that it would voluntarily remove zinc from its adhesives. The company cited "potential health risks associated with long-term excessive use" and announced plans to release reformulated denture creams by April or May of this year.

This is a promising sign that the company is finally taking responsibility for the safety of its consumers. But for many denture wearers, the damage has already been done. Forty million Americans wear dentures and removing zinc from denture cream will hopefully prevent debilitating, and potentially fatal, medical problems in the future.

As promising as Glaxo's actions may be, consumers are not yet out of the woods. Proctor & Gamble, makers of the popular denture adhesive Fixodent, also add zinc to their products. Amid the media frenzy surrounding GSK's announcement Thursday, Proctor & Gamble were disturbingly silent. It is critical that Proctor & Gamble follow Glaxo's lead and remove zinc from its denture products. Further, consumers must demand that companies disclose any health risks their products might pose. No one should suffer the fate of Rodney Urbanek again.

If you want more information about the debilitating symptoms of zinc poisoning, please visit the website my firm has launched,