As long as we’ve understood the potential dangers of bacteria and other microorganisms, we’ve tried to keep them under control. Preventive dentistry, for example, strives to keep down levels of damaging bacteria in the mouth. But the tools we use to control microorganisms aren’t very specific, and they can be very destructive to both the dangerous bacteria and the symbiotic ones that help maintain oral and digestive health.
People have been concerned that altering our microbiome–the community of microorganisms living in us–can have very serious health effects. It might be linked, they say, with health conditions like diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and obesity. So it was troubling to find out that nearly 75% of people tested had the antibiotic triclosan in their system. This antibiotic, they say, could be killing the good bacteria in our system as well as the bad.
Fortunately, a new study suggests that’s not the case.
Exposing People to Multiple Triclosan Products
Part of the reason why triclosan is so widespread in the population is that it’s found in everything. This includes soaps, dishwashing liquid, and, yes, toothpaste. For the purposes of this study, people were randomly selected to use three products that either had triclosan or not–toothpaste, hand soap, and dishwashing liquid. People used these products for four months, then they switched. Those that had been using triclosan-containing products were now using triclosan-free products, and vice-versa.
Researchers took samples of urine to monitor triclosan levels. They used blood samples to check for disruption of the metabolic processes. They also took stool samples and oral swabs to check the health of each person’s microbiome. Samples were taken at the beginning of the study, at the crossover point, and at the end of the study.
They found that while using triclosan-containing products did affect the amount of triclosan found in urine, the triclosan levels impacted neith a person’s microbiome nor their metabolism. This trial suggests that using triclosan-containing products might not be disruptive.
Limitations of the Study
Studies always have weaknesses, and it’s important to understand this before we put too much authority in the findings. In this case, the biggest limitation of the study is the very small sample size. The study only included a total of 13 people who completed the study, with six in one arm of the study and seven in the other. It’s hard to generalize conclusions about something this important on the basis of such a small study.
Studies have shown in the past that triclosan-containing toothpaste can help control gingivitis, a mild form of gum disease, but it’s important to talk to a dentist about whether triclosan- or xylitol-containing toothpastes are appropriate for you.