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Can Non-Dietary Sources of Gluten Make You Sick?

Journal of Gluten Sensitivity Winter 2014 Issue

Image: CC--S J Pyrotechnic 12/14/2016 - Just when you think you've heard everything, something brand new enters the arena. When it comes to non-dietary sources of gluten, I think of things such as lipstick (it's not a food but we still eat some of it), Play-Doh (also not a food but if you've ever seen children playing with it, you'll note that some ingestion occurs), and some cosmetic items like body lotions and shampoos. The skin does ‘ingest' what you put on it and we've definitely seen negative reactions from topical application of gluten-containing ingredients. But prior to becoming acquainted with a recent published paper in Clinical Pediatrics, my list of non-dietary sources of gluten would likely have ended there.

This brand new study entitled "An orthodontic retainer preventing remission in celiac disease" gives it all away in the title… or does it?

Yes, it turns out that the specialized plastic used by manufacturers of retainers contains gluten. And the gluten can get mobilized into the body of the person utilizing the retainer. The story cited by the researchers involved a 9 year old child with celiac disease. She complained of abdominal pain and was diagnosed via blood and biopsy as having celiac. Upon implementing a gluten-free diet, the young girl's physical complaints persisted and her lab findings also showed an active form of the disease.

Brilliantly, someone thought to suspect her retainer, which contained a plasticized methacrylate polymer. It turns out that gluten is a common additive to plastics. And despite the idea that a hard plastic would be stable, it turns out that nothing could be further from the truth.

After discontinuing use of her retainer, not only did her symptoms resolve, but so too did her blood and biopsy findings become normal.

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I did a little digging and this specific form of plastic is used in more than just retainers. It's found in dentures, white dental fillings, hard lenses for the eye in the treatment of cataracts, hard and some soft contact lenses, as a bone cement in orthopedic surgery, in cosmetic surgery as fillers, and more.

The history behind the use of this plastic is rather interesting. It turns out that during World War II pilots flew in planes that had side windows made from this particular type of plastic (abbreviation PMMA). When they were shot at, splinters from the windows lodged in the pilots eyes. Unlike glass splinters that did create problems, the plastic caused no rejection by the eyes. This human tissue compatibility was then used for cataracts, contact lenses, etc.

If you know of someone who continues to be ill despite a strict gluten-free diet, looking into non-dietary forms of gluten may yield the answer to their problem.

I hope you found this informative. If you have any questions feel free to contact me. If you need assistance with your health, consider contacting us for a free health analysis – 408-733-0400. We are a destination clinic and treat patients from across the country and internationally. You don't need to live local to us to receive assistance. We're here to help!

To your good health!


  • Clinical Pediatrics. 2013 Nov; 52(11):1034-7. doi: 10.1177/0009922813506254. An orthodontic retainer preventing remission in celiac disease. Memon Z, Baker SS, Khan A, Hashmi H, Gelfond D. welcomes your comments below (registration is NOT required).

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10 Responses:

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said this on
14 Dec 2016 3:16:22 PM PST
I actually had a fake set of Halloween teeth that made me really sick every time I used them. Now I know why. I thought it was in the glue to fit them but this makes a a lot more sense now.

Kristin Adams
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said this on
15 Dec 2016 5:33:44 PM PST
Gluten is a very common, hidden ingredient in cosmetics. While the molecular size of gluten is too large to absorb, it´s said that women eat up to 4 pounds of lip products in a lifetime. If you do decide to remove yourself from the gluten equation all-together and buy gluten-free cosmetics, I highly suggest you purchase products that are actually third party certified (not just claimed to be "lab tested". The third party audit process reveals more than you would ever think about contaminates. Plus, if your gluten concern is great enough you should want a third party to validate any claim.

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said this on
19 Dec 2016 6:04:57 AM PST
The references for the plastics cited in the 2013 article are from the 1970s. This type of additive to plastics is not commonly used anymore. I did some research on this a couple of years ago and it is VERY unlikely that a retainer will contain gluten.

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said this on
19 Dec 2016 11:40:46 AM PST
What alternative do we have, though? I'm about to get braces and will likely be in a retainer afterward. It seems like every dental device has some level plastic in it.

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said this on
19 Dec 2016 11:42:19 AM PST
Just when I thought I had it covered and was beginning to get comfortable, this pops up! It appears that sugar, salt, fat and tobacco, the [otherwise] most problematic sources of ill health in developed countries, are not insinuated into the human experience as much as gluten!rn

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said this on
19 Dec 2016 12:41:53 PM PST
Ok - I did some digging myself and found that this story of the 9 year old girl was reported a few years ago and an article about even posted on back in 2014, so this isn't "new." Also, every article I've found linking gluten to orthodontics only mentions this one study about the girl and her retainer. If this is a true issue, have they studied other celiacs with dental appliances to see if gluten in the plastics (if really present) was indeed causing relapse? I can't find any evidence.

( Author)
said this on
20 Dec 2016 5:49:35 PM PST
Note that this article was originally published a few years ago in our Journal of Gluten Sensitivity.

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said this on
19 Dec 2016 4:30:10 PM PST
Is there a way I can tell it my dentures are made of this stuff? I am always so miserable but am on a strict GF diet.

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said this on
25 Dec 2016 5:21:27 PM PST
Have you tried going off anything in the nightshade family? I react to all of those plus sweet potatoes.

Shaina Wright
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said this on
19 Dec 2016 8:59:45 PM PST
Now I'm worried about both my contacts and the mouth guard I use for sports. Are there any good resources for figuring out if a specific plastic product has gluten as an additive?

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