What Is Triclosan and Should You Switch Toothpastes?


Does your toothpaste contain the potentially harmful ingredient triclosan that the FDA recently banned from antibacterial hand soap? (Photo: Trunk Archive)

Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned several key chemicals in antibacterial hand soap, one of them being triclosan.

Then on Wednesday, the New York Times reported that Colgate Total toothpaste still contains this ingredient, and that’s because the FDA states that triclosan-based toothpastes have been “demonstrated to be effective at reducing plaque and gingivitis.”

The newspaper also quoted Richard Niederman, a dentist and the chairman of the epidemiology department at the New York University College of Dentistry, who stated that patients concerned about the potential hazards of triclosan can opt for a toothpaste containing stannous fluoride.

“The fact of the matter is we’re moving away from massive bug-killing, just like we are from massive use of hand sanitization,” Susan Maples, a dentist and author of Blabber Mouth: 77 Secrets Only Your Mouth Can Tell You to Live a Healthier, Happier, Sexier Life, tells Yahoo Beauty. “We notice that we’re lowering our immunity and creating superbugs — bugs that are resistant to [these chemicals] — so we’re creating more problems for bacterial infections and lessening the ability to combat them with antibiotic therapy.”

Maples explains that the American Dental Association and the FDA consider triclosan-based toothpaste safe because the product contains small amounts of it. “For most people, they can probably handle it,” says Maples. “But the question is, would you want it in your mouth if you’re concerned about it? The answer is probably not.”

She concurs with Niederman’s recommendation for choosing a toothpaste with stannous fluoride. “Stannous is usually the fluoride we see in the toothpaste itself — and that’s fine,” she says. “I think a lot patients are wigged out about fluoride in general.”

The addition of fluoride in water, Maples explains, is “there for children to build stronger teeth for the rest of their lives,” while the fluoride in toothpaste — as well as the topical fluoride varnish that a dentist applies to your pearly whites during a routine visit — is present to prevent tooth decay.

“Think of the tooth as an absorbent, like wood that has pores,” says Maples. “The molecules in the fluoride plugs those pores to help combat the acid environment those teeth live in. And, unfortunately, most of our food is acidified, and the beverages we’re consuming are about as acidic as stomach acid. So the fluoride becomes a really necessary component in that world. It’s our best protection.”

As for how to go about finding the right toothpaste, check with your dentist or hygienist if you have specific needs, “like if you have extra-sensitive teeth or you’re a tartar builder.”

“But as a general rule, I would keep it simple and go back to the Crest original, which is the basic fighting formula,” suggests Maples. “It’s usually on the bottom shelf because it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles. I tend to think less is more.”

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