Teen Fears Triclosan In Toothpaste
Q: One of our teens, who is obsessed with science and medicine, says she read a story that there’s something in toothpaste that causes colon cancer. Now she’s refusing to brush her teeth. Is there any truth to what she’s read? If so, should we all stop using toothpaste? A: Your teen is referring to triclosan, a highly effective antimicrobial and antifungal agent. It’s found in more than 2,000 consumer products, including cleansers, personal care and household goods, and some pet supplies. That means it’s in everything from toothpaste, clothing and makeup to kitchenware, furniture and toys. In 2016, the FDA stopped manufacturers from offering for sale any over-the-counter antiseptic wash products like liquid, foam and gel hand soaps, bar soaps and body washes that contain triclosan. The ruling came as a result of studies that found the compound can alter hormone regulation in animals, could have a hand in the development of antibiotic-resistant germs and might be harmful to the immune system. So far, the FDA hasn’t stepped in to prevent the use of triclosan in toothpaste, where it is claimed to help protect against gingivitis. And for products like clothes, cookware, furniture and toys, which don’t make health claims, regulation of triclosan is up to the Environmental Protection Agency. The reason your teen is talking about triclosan right now is the publicity generated by the results of a recent study, which linked even short-term oral exposure to triclosan with adverse effects on the colon and its colonies of beneficial bacteria. It’s important to note that these studies were done on mice, and that further research regarding the effects of triclosan on humans is needed. Mice who were fed a diet laced with triclosan over the course of three weeks wound up with inflammation of their colons. They also had a gut microbiome that was measurably depleted, particularly of Bifidobacterium, a strain that has been shown to fight inflammation. Another group of mice who had triclosan introduced into their diets and were then induced to develop inflammatory bowel disease had symptoms that were more severe, and colon damage that was more extensive, than the nontriclosan mice. Although some triclosan mice developed colon cancer with tumors that were larger and more aggressive than those of the nontriclosan mice, the researchers said the differences between the two groups were too small to be statistically reliable. We expect to see more research into the subject. In the meantime, no, we definitely don’t think you should stop brushing your teeth. But there are toothpastes without triclosan, and identifying them for the family seems like a great project for the young scientist in your household. ASK THE DOCTORS is written by Robert Ashley, M.D., Eve Glazier, M.D., and Elizabeth Ko, M.D. Send questions to askthedoctors@ mednet.ucla.edu, or write: Ask the Doctors, c/o Media Relations, UCLA Health, 924 Westwood Blvd., Suite 350, Los Angeles, CA, 90095.