Suspected culprit in Mineral Wells woman's debilitating disorder: denture cream
It began with a tingling sensation, as if her foot was going to sleep.
Then numbness set in. It crept up to Elizabeth Gilley's calf and onto her thigh.
Over the next six months, the Mineral Wells woman grew weaker, her skin turned pale, and she could barely walk across the room without gasping for breath.
When she collapsed in 2007, Gilley was taken to a hospital.
"The doctor didn't know how I was still conscious," Gilley said.
At first, doctors told her that she had leukemia, but tests didn't confirm cancer. CT scans, MRIs and blood tests followed. Still Gilley was no closer to a diagnosis.
After a year of seeing doctor after doctor, she finally found out what was causing the symptoms, but she could hardly believe what the physician was telling her.
"Within five minutes of seeing him, he asked me if I wore denture cream," said Gilley, 26, who was forced to get dentures as a teenager after a genetic condition ruined her teeth. "I handed him the tube; he told me to stop using it."
By then the damage was done. Gilley could no longer walk, drive a car or get around without a wheelchair. Once an active young woman who had recently gotten married, she was rarely able to leave her home.
Gilley joined a growing number of people nationwide who have filed lawsuits alleging that the makers of some denture creams knew about the health risks associated with high levels of zinc in their products and did nothing about it. Fixodent and Super Poligrip are named in class-action lawsuits filed in Tennessee last year.
Gilley's suit against GlaxoSmithKline was recently filed in Philadelphia, where the manufacturer is located. About 20 other claimants have also filed suits in mass tort court in Pennsylvania.
GlaxoSmithKline declined to comment on the litigation. But on the Web site for Super Poligrip, the manufacturer addresses issues surrounding zinc.
Both GlaxoSmithKline, the maker of Poligrip and Super Poligrip, and Procter & Gamble, the maker of Fixodent, have said that their products contain zinc at levels recognized as safe. GlaxoSmithKline's label now states that there have been reports of serious health effects from increased zinc intake over a long period. But the company notes that small amounts swallowed during normal use are not harmful and that consumers should not apply the product more than once a day.
In addition, the Food and Drug Administration classifies the creams as medical devices and does not require zinc to be listed as an ingredient.
But dozens of people have been permanently disabled after using the cream for years, and at least one person has died, said Ed Blizzard of Houston, Gilley's attorney.
"I believe this is just the tip of the iceberg," he said. "I think a lot of people out there have neuropathy and don't know it could be connected to their dentures."
A debilitating disease
An estimated 35 million Americans use adhesives to secure their dentures, and most have no health problems associated with the creams. But some have developed severe neurological problems, they say, caused by ingesting dangerously high levels of zinc. Gilley developed neuropathy, which causes numbness, tingling and pain.
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