Lawsuits are putting the bite on denture cream sales. The maker of Poligrip denture cream will stop making formulas containing zinc amid lawsuits claiming years of excessive use caused neurological damage and blood problems in consumers, allegedly crippling some.
GlaxoSmithKline will stop making and marketing Super Poligrip Original, Ultra Fresh and Extra Care products in the U.S. The company plans to reformulate the creams without zinc.
The company, based in London, reported more than $520 million in denture adhesive sales last year.
It stressed that the products are safe when used as directed, but that some people use extra cream to correct ill-fitting dentures.
Glaxo's voluntary action comes as hundreds of lawsuits are poised to go to trial, alleging Poligrip caused nerve damage, leading to a loss of balance, loss of sensation in the hands and feet, and leaving some patients paralyzed.
"They made the right decision in the sense that it's going to prevent the crippling of more people," said attorney Andy Alonso of Parker Waichman Alonso LLP. "But it's too late for many of my clients."
Alonso represents more than a hundred users of denture cream in Miami federal court, where several hundred lawsuits are being consolidated. The plaintiffs say the makers of zinc-based creams failed to warn consumers about potential risks.
Alonso estimates about 30 million people in the U.S. wear dentures and use products like Poligrip.
There are currently 75 denture cream cases consolidated before Miami U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga, who will decide whether to choose a few for trial that would act as bellwethers for the rest, said plaintiffs' attorney Scott Weinstein. The Glaxo decision would have limited impact due to rules against using a company's actions to fix a problem in suits claiming previous damages, he said.
Lawyers suing Glaxo said the company's decision will put pressure on other makers of zinc-containing denture cream, most notably Procter & Gamble, which makes Fixodent.
A spokeswoman for Cincinnati-based P&G said the company has no plans to reformulate its product.
"The levels of zinc in Fixodent are approximately half of what's used in Super Poligrip," said Michelle Vaeth. She added that the amount of zinc in Fixodent is equal to that found in a hamburger.
Both Glaxo and P&G market zinc-free alternatives to their products.