Over the course of your lifetime you’ll produce 10,000 gallons of spit that your body uses to initiate digestion, neutralize acid in your mouth and help fight germs that produce bad breath.1 If you floss each day, you’ll go through approximately 5 miles of floss over your lifetime and will use 20 gallons of toothpaste. If you brush your teeth twice a day for two minutes, you’ll spend 24 hours brushing each year.
Even though you don’t swallow your toothpaste (and shouldn’t!), it all happens in an area of your body used as a drug delivery system when a rapid onset of action from medication is desired,2 with a permeability four to 4,000 times greater than your skin.3 The wide range is due to the different permeability in the different regions in your mouth. Thus, any chemical you place in your mouth, despite the fact you don’t swallow, may be absorbed directly into your bloodstream.
With this in mind, it’s worth considering what you and your children are placing in your mouth on a daily basis. Unfortunately, as toothpaste falls under the category of cosmetics,4 manufacturers are left largely to regulate their own products by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
In the coming months, triclosan, an antibacterial chemical, will be removed from consumer hand washes in response to an overwhelming database of research demonstrating health risks. However, it will (illogically) still remain in toothpaste, especially those toothpastes designed for use in children.
A recent study demonstrated how quickly blood levels of triclosan may rise in small children exposed to the chemical in toothpaste and hand soap.5 This is one of the first studies to show how triclosan invades the bodies of young children through environmental exposure. Senior study author Joe Braun, assistant professor of epidemiology at Brown University, explained the impetus behind the study:6
“There’s very little data on the exposure in those first years of life. There are a lot of behavioral changes in those years, and environmental chemicals can play a role.”
Braun and his colleagues tested 389 women and children from Cincinnati between pregnancy and until the children were 8 years old. They collected urine three times during the pregnancy and periodically between the children’s first and eighth year. They found triclosan in more than 70 percent of the samples.
Interestingly, by age 8 they found children who used the most hand soap had 66 percent more triclosan in their body, and those who washed their hands more than five times a day had four times more chemical than those who reported washing their hands once or less per day.7 Children who brushed their teeth with toothpaste in the past 24 hours had 2.5 times more triclosan than those who had not used toothpaste. Isaac Pessah, Ph.D., researcher at the University of California, who was not involved in the study, commented:
“It’s a thorough, well-done analysis. Given the high concentrations [of triclosan] in personal care products, you’re seeing that the concentrations in the end user are also quite high.”
Despite the fact that U.S. manufacturers must phase out triclosan after the FDA banned it and several other chemicals from use in hand soap after concerns were made public that it disrupted the body’s hormonal system, triclosan remains in other personal care products.
Triclosan is a broad spectrum antibacterial compound with high solubility that works by affecting a protein reductase enzyme essential for bacterial fatty acid synthesis.8 As it is a potent, effective and inexpensive chemical, triclosan may be found in a number of commercial and personal care products, including:9
Research suggests triclosan is effective against tooth decay, but not against periodontitis, plaque or gingivitis.10 Some even believe there is a role for the chemical in protecting oral health.11 However, while the chemical is highly effective against oral bacteria, so is chlorine bleach12 — but you wouldn’t dream of brushing your teeth with it.
Colgate continues to use triclosan in its toothpaste to “fight harmful plaque germs.”13 The parent company, Colgate-Palmolive, has maintained the levels of triclosan used in their products is both safe and necessary in the role to fight gum disease. Patricia Verduin, head of R&D at Colgate-Palmolive, wrote this in response to media reports on the impact triclosan has on your endocrine system:14
“As for claims of endocrine disruption, the World Health Organization defines an endocrine disruptor as something harmful to one’s health, and that is simply not the case here.”
On its website, Colgate makes this statement:15
“We remain confident that ongoing independent scientific reviews will continue to add to the substantial body of research that affirms the safety and effectiveness of Colgate Total® with triclosan … The FDA concluded that soap manufacturers had not submitted adequate safety evidence for use in these products; the agency did not conclude that triclosan in soap is unsafe.”
However, the ruling by the FDA on September 6, 2016, does not mention a lack of submitted safety evidence, but states:16
“FDA is issuing this final rule after considering the recommendations of the Nonprescription Drugs Advisory Committee (NDAC); public comments on the Agency’s notices of proposed rulemaking; and all data and information on OTC consumer antiseptic wash products that have come to the Agency’s attention.”
In other words, the FDA made the ruling based on data they did have, and not on data that had not been submitted.
A number of studies have led to understanding how triclosan functions as an endocrine disruptor. In this short news video, Dr. Gary Cohan describes how triclosan may impact a man’s sex drive. Studies have demonstrated thyroid hormone disruption in rats and frogs, as well as disrupted thyroid hormone-associated gene expression.17
Exposure to triclosan has become so commonplace that it is showing up in urine, blood and breast milk of people around the world. Even those who don’t use products with triclosan are exposed to it in their food, water supply and even household dust.18
Triclosan has both estrogenic (female hormone) and androgenic (male hormone) properties, which may lead to the development of breast cancer.19 Exposure to triclosan may elevate calcium levels in the cells that may potentially affect neurodevelopment and neurological functioning,20 and impair mitochondrial function.21
After exposure to sunlight, or interaction with chlorine in tap water, breakdown products of triclosan include a list of dangerous chemicals, such as chloroform, 2,8-Dichlorodibenzo-p-dioxin and 2,4-dichlorophenol, an endocrine disruptor and U.S. EPA priority pollutant.22 However, the damage to your body does not end with your endocrine system.
A small study from Stanford University found while triclosan was killing bacteria in your mouth, it may also be slowly breeding superbugs in your intestinal tract.23
Preliminary data from this study fall in line with information from others that demonstrate triclosan may cause subtle disruption in your gut microbiome, integral to your immune system and your overall health.24 The researchers collected stool samples over a one-year period, finding subtle differences in the bacterial communities of those using toothpaste with triclosan.
Many of the bacteria from the group Proteobacteria that grew in the gut of those using triclosan are known to become broadly resistant to antibiotics and are linked to dysbiosis, or an imbalance of gut microbiome.25 Although the study had limitations, the researchers found an increase in an antibiotic resistance gene that enables bacteria to resist penicillin and other similar drugs.
While triclosan is not found in all commercial toothpastes, your toothpaste likely contains other toxins known to be endocrine disruptors, or to increase inflammation or have carcinogenic activity. According to the Cornucopia Institute’s report, “Behind the Dazzling Smile,”26the average woman uses 12 personal care products with 168 different chemicals and the average man uses six products with 85 different ingredients.
A common ingredient found in dental products and your tap water is fluoride, a known endocrine disruptor, neurotoxin and bone weakening substance the FDA classifies as a drug when used to prevent disease, such as cavities. Humans have no known physiological requirement for fluoride. More information about this drug intentionally added to your tap water may be found in a previous article by Michael Connett, senor adviser for the Fluoride Action Network.
Other chemicals and additives commonly found in toothpaste — discussed in-depth in my previous article, “Is Your Toothpaste Loaded with Toxins?”
Fortunately, there are safer alternatives, not all of which you have to make at home. Consider choosing from the Cornucopia Institute’s top picks,27 or from the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Database.28 While over-the-counter products are great for travel, you may enjoy using a homemade toothpaste that you can make with a few basic ingredients.
For example, combine a simple mixture of coconut oil and baking soda with a few drops of peppermint essential oil, adding enough baking soda to form a smooth consistency. Store in a glass jar in a cool, dry place.
Coconut oil may help inhibit the growth of Streptococcus mutans, an acid-producing bacterium that is a cause of tooth decay, and peppermint oil extract has been shown to be superior to the mouthwash chemical chlorhexidine in inhibiting the formation of biofilm formations linked to dental cavities.29 Also remember that your diet is the foundation for strong, healthy teeth. Nutrients that are particularly important for oral health include: