AUG 09, 2017 3:35 PM PDT

Diagnosed: Man's Denture Cream Left Him Wheelchair-Bound


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Sometimes medical problems are brought on by the most common household items. In the case of a 62-year-old man, doctors believe it was his prolonged use of denture cream that led to muscle weakness and, eventually, to him being wheelchair-bound.

The previously independent patient reportedly sought medical help for tingling, numbness, and weakness in his legs. Over the course of 6 months, his symptoms worsened and rendered him housebound. An MRI scan revealed degeneration in his spinal cord. While a number of lab tests came back normal, one result stood out as remarkable: levels of copper in his blood was lower than normal.

The man was later diagnosed with copper deficiency myelopathy (CDM), a progressive disease of the spinal cord, brought on by insufficient copper. This was somewhat surprising to doctors, considering that the human body needs relatively little of copper to function normally. They suspected some other factor was impacting the levels of copper in his body.

Further investigation revealed a likely smoking gun: the man’s denture cream. As it turns out, the denture cream contained zinc, a compound which can interfere with copper absorption. While zinc levels in denture creams are not toxic by itself, it was the quantity of exposure that made the man so sick. Reportedly, the man had been using between two to four tubes of cream every week for the past 15 years. Doctors believe that level of exposure was what led to the decline in his nerve cells.

In addition to stopping the use of denture cream, the man was promptly treated with copper supplements. He reported that some symptoms, such as numbness and pain, have reduced with treatment. However, the man remains wheelchair-bound, as some of the nerve damage may have been irreversible.

The case report is a reminder of how seemingly benign products can cause major medical problems. “Clinicians should be mindful of risk factors for copper deficiency, for example, potential malabsorption or routine use of zinc-containing products. Prompt recognition and treatment of copper deficiency myelopathy prevents progressive and likely irreversible neurological dysfunction,” the authors concluded.

Additional source: Live Science

About the Author
Doctorate (PhD)
I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at
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