What Is the Dangerous Ingredient Lurking in Your Toothpaste?

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If you’re following your dentist’s order on basic oral hygiene, then you’re probably using toothpaste twice a day to keep your teeth, gum and breath clean. But Time.com is reporting news of some questionable ingredients in everyday toothpaste that might be bad for the consumer. The ingredient in question is triclosan — an ingredient found in antibacterial soaps.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) revealed that triclosan is not effective, in terms of anti-bacterial soaps, and that products containing the ingredient are not any more effective than products without it. What’s more, previous research has found that the ingredient is linked to endocrine disruption, organ system toxicity, irritation, allergies and immunotoxicity, triclosan-resistant bacteria, and bioaccumulation.

In 2011, Colgate-Palmolive removed the controversial ingredient from various products, including Softsoap hand soap and dish detergent, but the ingredient still remains in their toothpaste. According to the company, triclosan plays a role in preventing gingivits (inflammation of the gums) and early gum disease. Fox News reports that an independent review by the Cochrane Oral Health Group has found that triclosan products result in a 22 percent reduction in plague and gingivitis, a 41 percent drop in plaque severity and a 48 percent fall in gum bleeding.

“A concern specific to triclosan is its potential to act as an ‘endocrine disruptor,’ which means that it can bind to hormone receptors and interfere with normal hormonal function, including thyroid and reproductive hormones,” said Joshua U. Klein, MD assistant clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, to TIME.

That said, other medical health professionals argue that the triclosan in toothpaste puts humans at very low exposure to the product and considering that the FDA does not consider it to be hazardous to humans, is it even a problem?

“The issue with triclosan and triclocarban [a related chemical] is not so much that they present a direct threat to human health in concentrations that are found in toothpaste [and other consumer products],” said Robert Lawrence, MD, director of the Center for a Livable Future at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, to TIME. “It’s their long-term accumulation in the environment and their impact on the ecosystem that is most alarming.”

“Triclosan is not currently known to be hazardous to humans. But several scientific studies have come out since the last time FDA reviewed this ingredient that merit further review,” writes the FDA on their website. “Animal studies have shown that triclosan alters hormone regulation. However, data showing effects in animals don’t always predict effects in humans. Other studies in bacteria have raised the possibility that triclosan contributes to making bacteria resistant to antibiotics.”

But the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics begs to differ, citing that triclosan has been found in the urine of 75 percent of the people tested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The ingredient — found in Antibacterial soaps and detergents, toothpaste and tooth-whitening products, antiperspirants/deodorants, shaving products, creams, color cosmetics — is already restricted in cosmetics in Japan and Canada.

“Triclosan should be clearly labeled on ingredient lists and so is relatively easy to avoid,” advises the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. “Stick with plain soap and water—the FDA found no evidence that antibacterial washes containing triclosan are any more effective at protecting against bacteria.”

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