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Phyllis Diller once said, “A smile is a curve that sets everything straight.” We all know that a great smile starts with healthy teeth and gums. Whether or not we actually do it, we were all taught at a young age how to go about maintaining a clean mouth. Brush your teeth a few times per day. Floss regularly. Use mouthwash. Schedule regular visits to the dentist and stay away from sweets. The problem most of us have is that we don’t take the time to understand what is in the products we use to clean our mouths.
Brushing Your Teeth as a Kid
I grew up a “Crest Kid.” I also preferred Playstation to Xbox, Energizer to Duracell and Nike to Reebok because that’s what I knew growing up. I felt like Crest toothpaste was the end all be all, and nobody could ever convince me that I should use any other kind of toothpaste. The problem is, sometimes we get so comfortable with what we know that we really DON’T know what makes up the things we take for granted. I bet if you asked me 20 years ago, I would have told you that pancakes were the only breakfast I would ever need in my life. If you asked me now, some eggs and, gasp, vegetables are a good change of pace (every once in a while).
Is Your Toothpaste Dangerous?
Toothpaste is one item that has received a lot of publicity lately. Aside from the fact that there are an endless number of variations from whitenings and fluorides to “pro-health” and cavity-fighting. However, there is one ingredient that has raised some concern for its ties to certain types of cancers: triclosan. Triclosan is only found in one major brand of toothpaste, Colgate. Colgate has said there is nothing wrong with a small amount of triclosan and that it aids proper oral health, but to accept something that could be harmful at a company’s word is irresponsible. So we decided to look a little deeper at what triclosan is and whether or not we should be avoiding it all together.
What is Triclosan?
Triclosan is a germicide found in many antibacterial soaps and washes that we use every day. Products where Triclosan can be found:
- Antibacterial soaps
- Cosmetic products
- Surgical cleaning agents
- Colgate Total toothpaste
Over the past 30 years, studies have shown that low levels of triclosan can be found in our bodies. We absorb it from the antibacterial soaps we use and from the clothes we wear after they’re washed. At such low levels, there is no immediate danger of becoming sick from exposure to triclosan. Beyond Pesticides goes into more detail about the chemical makeup of triclosan here.
Does Colgate Cause Cancer?
Triclosan has been linked to anything from environmental issues to certain types of cancer. While we shouldn’t all go running out for treatment, it’s important to understand some of the effects triclosan could have on the human body in larger doses.
At this time, there is nothing to suggest that there is a direct link between triclosan and cancer. Simply put, not enough testing has been done and the FDA has approved it for daily use in antibacterial products including Colgate toothpaste. However, in 2013 the FDA changed their stance on triclosan, and issued a consumer update citing the need for additional studies of its potential hazards and developmental effects. They also committed to making a final decision in 2016 on whether this ingredient should be banned in the U.S.
Below are some health concerns caused by triclosan.
- Dermatitis – some people have adverse skin reactions to triclosan.
- Allergies – common more so in children than adults.
- Thyroid hormone metabolism – studies in rats and frogs have shown there are negative effects upon the thyroid glands when exposed to triclosan.
- Immune system – triclosan has been linked to the toxic chemical compound dioxin, which is known to impair the immune system.
- Reproduction and brain development
While there has been no direct link between triclosan and cancer, some of the above health concerns should make us take a closer look at where we might be exposing ourselves to the chemical. In the environment, when triclosan is exposed to sunlight, it can become a mild form of chloroform. Whether or not we fully understand the health risks associated with triclosan, we know enough to know that limiting our exposure to the chemical can only be a good thing.
Colgate Defense of Triclosan
Colgate has taken a proactive stance and defended its use of triclosan in its products. Colgate has come out and stated that there are no proven harmful effects from using a small amount (.3% in Colgate Total toothpaste) and that its plaque-fighting benefits make it one of the safest and healthiest products on the market.
On their website, Colgate cites an article from the Cochrane Oral Health Group titled “Triclosan/copolymer containing toothpastes for oral health”. From the article, Colgate states: The resulting data highlighted the many clinical benefits of using a fluoride toothpaste containing triclosan/copolymer and concluded there was no evidence of any harmful effects associated with the use of triclosan/copolymer toothpastes in studies up to three years in duration.
Remember, although there are plenty of studies that show that triclosan can be harmful, the FDA has not pulled its backing of Colgate’s use of the chemical in its toothpaste. Until there is a definitive stance on the chemical, we can really only speculate as to its safety in the market.
The Final Word on Triclosan
Just like anything else in the world, triclosan will have its supporters and its opponents. For every study that shows how bad it can be for your body, another one will come out that tells you that it’s safe. The important things to remember are that there is no direct link to cancer and currently no evidence that you will become sick from brushing your teeth with Colgate toothpaste. It seems, however, that more and more studies are finding the effects of the chemical harmful. And, with the FDA changing its stance on triclosan, it might only be a matter of time before they pull their endorsement from Colgate’s use of it in toothpaste.
What About Fluoride?
If you’re concerned about triclosan, you’ve probably heard about fluoride being potentially dangerous as well. While there’s no definitive research regarding fluoride either, there is quite a bit of chatter out there on it’s pros (fighting cavities) and cons. We review this in our article is flouride dangerous?
Do you use products containing triclosan? Are you concerned it may be dangerous?