What is triclosan and why should I be worried about my toothpaste? – terra20
triclosan in toothpaste

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By Andrea Tomkins

A few months ago I took a quick little quiz that was part of an article on the New York Times website called: What Poisons are In Your Body. The quiz part of it takes about 10 seconds and once you select from a group of products you’ve used in the past month, you’re told what surprises you might be ingesting. There are 13 items listed, and one of them, surprisingly, is Colgate Total.

I used Colgate in my family growing up, and when I got married, my husband used Colgate as well. When we had kids, we kept using Colgate (after a short bout with kid-friendly toothpaste that tasted like bubble gum), but suddenly they started coming out with these “advanced” formulas that promised better breath, whiter teeth, and improved gum health. These new members of the Colgate family were more expensive but after I tried Colgate Total I was hooked. It was strongly minty, which I really liked. I went so far as to buy my mother a tube as well.   

To say I was surprised to see Colgate Total on that New York Times list was a understatement, to say the least. It was also around this time that I received an email from Ottawa Riverkeeper. They’re a grassroots organization that “brings together volunteers, communities, businesses and all levels of government to find solutions to the problems that threaten the health of our river.”

We’ve attended several of their events: beach cleanings and a very fun river parade, and are on their mailing list.

According to that New York Times article, triclosan “can interfere with thyroid and other hormones.” It’s can be added to a huge range of personal and body care products, including some brands of soaps and deodorant, and, as I now knew, toothpaste.

Triclosan is a man-made antimicrobial; a substance that kills microorganisms or stops their growth. I understand the reasons why it could be in toothpaste. It’s an antibacterial, and bacteria can cause bad breath, right? Unfortunately, studies show that triclosan is also toxic to aquatic organisms. According to Ottawa Riverkeeper, “it can produce a reduction in growth, reproduction and survival to aquatic invertebrates and vertebrates, and terrestrial organisms including plants. It is also known to lead to more hazardous chemicals like methyl-triclosan during the wastewater treatment process.”

In March, Ottawa Riverkeeper posted a pledge to take action against triclosan, that you can read (and sign!) right here.

I don’t use antibacterial hand soaps and cleaners, so why was I putting some in my mouth? Ugh. Let’s just say that I went out and bought new toothpaste that same day, and I read the labels of all of them.

It’s worth mentioning that none of the toothpaste brands at terra20 contain triclosan. terra20 does all the investigative work for us! Some popular toothpaste brands include Green Beaver, Weleda children’s tooth gelKiss my Face, and Desert Essence.  

If you don’t want to make a complete switch, consider reducing the amount you do use. You can do this by using less on your toothbrush (a little dab'll do ya) or – if you prefer a more gradual approach – try using your brand at night and a terra20-approved brand in the morning.


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