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What’s in your toothpaste? 4/11
(This article is adapted from the April 2011 “Good Living” column in

Did you know that many toothpastes contain an antibacterial agent called triclosan. It’s in all kinds of products, like hand sanitizers and deodorants. If you look on your toothpaste’s ingredient panel you may find triclosan under "Active ingredients."

What's the problem with triclosan? Last year, more than 70 groups filed a petition with the Environmental Protection Agency to restrict the chemical in consumer products because of health concerns.

The European Union and other countries have banned or restricted triclosan. Still, the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says it is investigating the health issues, but doesn't yet have enough evidence to recommend changing consumer use of products that contain triclosan.

At the same time, the FDA says it has no proof that washing with soap containing triclosan is actually better than washing with regular soap. The FDA advises that if you are concerned about using hand and body soaps with triclosan, you should wash with regular soap.

Studies suggest that triclosan can increase antibiotic-resistant bacteria and can disrupt hormone and immune systems. A recent preliminary study by the University of Michigan found that in people under 18, higher urinary triclosan levels were associated with having more reported allergies and hay fever.

Triclosan seems to be in toothpaste to help prevent gingivitis, a form of gum inflammation. But the Mayo Clinic and other oral health experts say that gingivitis can be prevented simply by brushing twice a day and flossing regularly. For most healthy people who don’t have gingivitis, and certainly for young children, using toothpaste with triclosan seems unnecessary and possibly risky.

The good news: You can buy toothpaste without triclosan. Regular Colgate doesn’t have it, but Colgate Total toothpaste does, and Tom’s of Maine sells many triclosan-free options. Crest Pro-Health toothpaste contains another antibacterial, stannous fluoride, also to help protect against gingivitis.

One way to find toothpaste with no antibacterial agents is to avoid those that claim to help with gingivitis. Or you can check the label to see if triclosan is an active ingredient.

Related links

Environmental Working Group Guide to Triclosan

Food and Drug Administration Consumer Update--Triclosan: what consumers should know

Centers for Disease Control--Antibacterial Household Products: Cause for Concern

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