Brushing and flossing your teeth regularly are essential in maintaining good oral health. However, it is also good to check to find out whether the toothpaste you are using contains harmful chemicals that can negatively affect other parts of your body — in this case, your bones.
That is exactly what is raised in a recent study, which showed that triclosan, an antibacterial agent added to toothpaste that reduces gum infections and improve oral health, can pose more problems to your bones than it does benefiting your teeth.
What Is Triclosan?
An antibacterial agent that has been around since 1972, triclosan was first used in making surgical scrubs for hospitals. Since then, it was used in making soaps, hand sanitizers and deodorants, even finding its way into cutting boards, credit cards, trash cans and eventually toothpastes. Triclosan is also present in clothes, toys, cookware and furniture to reduce or prevent bacterial contamination, although that is because these are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The addition of triclosan to these products allowed marketers to add the “antibacterial” label on the packaging and emphasize that feature on those products, giving consumers an unproven implication that products containing triclosan (or other antibacterial agents) might prevent serious infections.
However, studies done in animals or human cells in labs over a span of many years have raised concern over whether the “cleanliness” associated with triclosan has negative (albeit unintended) side effects, which include:
- Development of resistant bacteria
- Abnormal hormonal function
- Increased allergic reactions
- Impaired muscles
- Uncertain environmental impacts
With these side effects in mind, using a product containing triclosan may cause you to absorb a small amount through your skin or mouth, as evidenced in a 2008 study, which found that more than 75 percent of the test subjects had detectable amounts of triclosan in their urine. While triclosan’s health impacts on humans are still uncertain, the FDA had then took action to eliminate its use, resulting in the antibacterial agent being banned from consumer products since 2016, starting with soaps, followed by health cleansers in 2017. It will also be eliminated from hand sanitizers by April 2020.
The Research Findings
The researchers in the recent study reviewed data from more than 1,800 women and found that:
- Those with high levels of triclosan in the urine had the lowest measures of bone density.
- Osteoporosis was common among those with the highest levels of urinary triclosan levels. Measured by bone density, osteoporosis is marked by bone density so low even a minor fall or injury could increase fracture risk.
- Low bone density’s link to high urinary triclosan levels was stronger for post-menopausal women than among younger women. This is particularly important since menopause is a time marked by an oft-dramatic fall in bone density, and post-menopausal women have the highest rates of osteoporosis-linked fractures.
Although it is only the latest research that raises concerns on the safety of triclosan, it may not be long before a ban on its use on toothpaste will be issued by the FDA, especially if there are no new studies that can dispute the findings.