What is triclosan and why is it in your toothpaste?

By now, word has gotten out that antibacterial soaps and sprays maybe aren’t the miracle products we thought they were. Not only is it beneficial to have some good bacteria on the body, but many of the chemicals used in antibacterial products have recently been banned for use in body products by the FDA.

One of those banned ingredients is triclosan, an antibacterial and antifungal chemical that could have adverse effects on human health. The weird thing? Triclosan hasn’t been banned in toothpaste—and it could easily be lurking in the tube you use.

triclosan photo
Flickr | JeepersMedia

Why Is Triclosan Still Being Used In Toothpaste?

Triclosan is used in toothpaste because it has been shown to be effective at fighting plaque and gum inflammation, and preventing gingivitis. In 2016, FDA spokeswoman Andrea Fischer told the New York Times: “Based on scientific evidence, the balance of benefit and risk is favorable for these products.”

Still, Colgate Total is currently the only toothpaste in the U.S. that contains triclosan. And according to Consumer Reports, a new study regarding triclosan has shown that the chemical can accumulate on toothbrushes and be released in the mouth.

In the study, researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst tested 22 toothbrushes after simulating three months of twice-a-day tooth-brushing. They used some toothpastes that contained triclosan, and some that did not. Their results showed that the triclosan adhered to the nylon toothbrush bristles and to other parts of toothbrushes, especially the softer and more rubbery parts. Even when a non-triclosan-containing toothpaste was switched into use, traces of the triclosan remained. Kinda gross, right?

Should We Be Worried About Triclosan Build-Up?

To understand more about what triclosan is and how it can affect people, this video from the Colorado School of Public Health gives an engaging overview.

In short, some studies have shown possible correlations between triclosan exposure and skin irritation, endocrine disruption, antibiotic resistance and water contamination. A 2016 review of studies, for example, showed that triclosan may contribute to antibiotic resistance and disrupt hormones and immunity.

Don’t panic, though. Despite the fact that it’s been banned from body products, the evidence is not quite conclusive yet, at least not in humans, and the jury is still out on triclosan’s true effects. It’s important to note, however, that animal research has shown harmful effects, and 200 doctors and scientists from around the world signed a statement against its use earlier in 2017.

Still, the makers of Colgate Total maintain that the amount of triclosan you would absorb from using their toothpaste is negligible. In a statement to Consumer Reports, Colgate-Palmolive said that the authors of the UMass study maintain that they don’t consider oral exposure to triclosan toothpaste to be a health risk.

If you’re concerned about triclosan exposure via toothpaste, talk to your dentist about their opinions of the chemical, and their thoughts on whether its effects could be beneficial to your oral health. If you have recurrent gum disease, you may decide to keep brushing with Colgate Total.

But if not, Marvin M. Lipman, M.D., Consumer Reports’ chief medical adviser, says that “There’s enough concern now with triclosan safety that it makes sense to avoid it on your own, even if there is some demonstrable value at reducing plaque and gingivitis.”