When you get right down to it, you don’t really need toothpaste to clean your teeth. It’s the mechanical action of brushing – and flossing – that breaks up the bacterial biofilm (plaque) that forms on your teeth between cleanings.
Oh, toothpaste can make the job a little easier by adding a little grit to help dislodge the sticky bacteria from tooth surfaces. It can also deliver probiotics and essential oils and nutrients that can support good oral health.
And some delivers ingredients that are less than wonderful – substances like fluoride, for instance, and triclosan.
There’s still a lot we don’t know about triclosan’s impact on overall health, but the picture that’s emerging is hardly reassuring.
Recent studies have…found that triclosan interferes with the body’s thyroid hormone metabolism and may be a potential endocrine disruptor. Children exposed to antibacterial compounds at an early age also have an increased chance of developing allergies, asthma and eczema.
There are also concerns about triclosan and its link with dioxin, which is highly carcinogenic and can cause health problems as severe as weakening of the immune system, decreased fertility, miscarriage, birth defects, and cancer. Recent work shows that triclosan promotes liver cancer cell development in mice through pathways shared with humans.
Recent research has also found that “exposure to [triclosan] exaggerates colonic inflammation and exacerbates development of colitis-associated colon tumorigenesis [cancer formation], via gut microbiome-dependent mechanisms.”
Other research suggests that triclosan may be neurotoxic, with one recent study highlighting a potential link between exposure and behavioral problems in boys.
So why does anyone want triclosan in toothpaste to begin with? Some research suggests a modest improvement in plaque reduction and an even more modest reduction in some types of cavities. The stuff is meant to kill bacteria, after all.
But now it turns out that triclosan may actually be making some bacteria even stronger and more resistant to antibiotic treatment. As Futurity recently reported,
Corey Westfall, a postdoctoral scholar in the [lab of lead author Petra Levin, Washington University in St. Louis], treated bacterial cells with bactericidal antibiotics and tracked their ability to survive over time. In one group, the researchers exposed bacteria to triclosan prior to giving them the bactericidal antibiotic. In the other group, they did not.
“Triclosan increased the number of surviving bacterial cells substantially,” Levin says. “Normally, one in a million cells survive antibiotics, and a functioning immune system can control them. But triclosan was shifting the number of cells. Instead of only one in a million bacteria surviving, one in 10 organisms survived after 20 hours. Now, the immune system is overwhelmed.”
This was observed in multiple types of antibiotics, not just one type from a single family.
Antibiotics can be useful when used mindfully and appropriately, but that depends on having antibiotics that work. That triclosan can throw up a barrier to this goal is just one more reason to steer clear of all products that contain it, toothpaste and otherwise.