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Are You Brushing Your Teeth with Triclosan?

Posted on 4 March, 2016 at 15:35

Besides hand soaps and products specifically marketed as antibacterial, triclosan can also be found in a number of other household and personal care products, including cutting boards, toys, acne cream, and even toothpaste.

At present, Colgate Total is the only triclosan-containing toothpaste sold in the US, but it's a best-seller—chances are you have a tube in your bathroom right now. If you do, consider this: if triclosan can cause serious health problems when used topically, using it in your mouth is likely even worse, as chemicals are readily absorbed into your oral tissues.

Colgate claims its product is safe,12 of course, citing a Cochrane Review13 as supporting evidence. But the review in question actually focused on the Colgate Total's effectiveness in fighting bleeding gums and inflammation; not its long-term safety... Cochrane analyzed more than 30 studies published between 1990 and 2012, and found "moderate quality evidence" that Colgate Total is more effective than other toothpastes with respect to reducing gum bleeding and inflammation. However, the authors, Philip Riley and Thomas Lamont, specifically noted that the studies did not allow them to assess any long-term side effects.14

A number of other countries have regulations for triclosan, but the US does not. Back in 1978, the FDA said it could not make a ruling on the safety of triclosan due to insufficient evidence. In 2010, the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a lawsuit against the FDA over the matter. In response to growing concerns, Minnesota recently passed legislation banning the chemical in products sold within its state lines.

The state-imposed ban will not take effect until January 2017, however. There's still no FDA ruling on triclosan, but the FDA has promised it will address the matter in 2016. However, as recently revealed by Bloomberg,15, 16 the FDA knew, or should have reasonably suspected, that there are safety problems:

"Colgate's Total application included 35 pages summarizing toxicology studies on triclosan, which the FDA withheld from view. The agency released the pages17 earlier this year in response to a lawsuit over a Freedom of Information Act request... The pages show how even with one of the US's most stringent regulatory processes -- FDA approval of a new drug -- the government relies on company-backed science to show products are safe and effective.

The recently released pages, taken alongside new research on triclosan, raise questions about whether the agency did appropriate due diligence in approving Total 17 years ago, and whether its approval should stand in light of new research... Among the pages were studies showing fetal bone malformations in mice and rats. Colgate said the findings weren't relevant. Viewed through the prism of today's science, such malformations look more like a signal that triclosan is disrupting the endocrine system and throwing off hormonal functioning...

Colgate's application materials also show that the FDA asked questions about the thoroughness of cancer studies, which are partly addressed in recently released documents... 'We have created a system where we are testing these chemicals out on the human population. I love the idea they are all safe,' [biology professor Thomas] Zoeller said. 'But when we have studies on animals that suggest otherwise, I think we're taking a huge risk.'"


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