The top-selling toothpaste Total contains a chemical called triclosan, and its use has provoked an avalanche of discussions lately. The toothpaste that was the main subject of these debates is made by Colgate-Palmolive Co., and the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) approved it in 1997.
Nobody thought that things would go the way they did. This year the agency, after a lawsuit by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), released all the safety data they had regarding this item. It turned out that the data had been long hidden by the public.
The discovery was more than shocking — over the past 18 years millions of people have been regularly putting a dangerous toxin in their mouth. The toxin mentioned in the lawsuit is potentially associated with high risk of cancer, endocrine disruption, infertility and other health problems.
The chemical, triclosan, is actually a pesticide. It is similar to the Agent Orange chemical weapon which was sprayed during the Vietnam War.
You can also find it as 5-chloro-2-(2,4-dichlorophenoxy) phenol. Initially, it has been used in surgical hand scrubs and other disinfectant agents. It is a derivative of 2,4-D, known as a highly toxic herbicide. This is nothing you would expect to find in your toothpaste, right?
However, Colgate still argues that the toothpaste is safe — they supported their claim with more than 80 clinical studies that involved 19,000 people.
Thomas DiPiazza, the company’s spokesman, pointed to an independent 2013 Cochrane study. The results of this study showed no evidence of any harmful effects associated with the use of Total.
But, over time triclosan has been gradually removed from many other personal care products. However, Total still contains it. What is even more interesting, the EU has banned the chemical and now there is no food-related product that contains it.
This step raised many questions and debates. We must mention that the FDA itself was not quite sure when it was about to approve the toothpaste as an over-the-counter drug, and there were certain concerns that the chemical could increase the risk of cancer. However, eventually Total was approved.
Maybe the FDA should not take all the responsibility regarding this issue. The whole problem was probably initiated when the FDA was about to make the decision about Total, and it only looked at the research results provided from Colgate’s labs.
FDA says that the company conducted a cancer study as well, but it admits that they could not easily say if the study was thorough enough. Moreover, the studies that showed fatal bone malformations in laboratory mice and rats — usually signalizing certain endocrine system disruptions, were actually dismissed as irrelevant.
However, the experts agreed at one point — when a certain chemical is considered to be dangerous to animals, no company should take the risk and expose human population to its use.
At that time an independent study showed that triclosan could not affect the thyroid function in humans, but later a shocking information was released in the media — it was revealed that Colgate gave grants to three out of the five authors. One of them even claimed that the company actually had no input on any data collection or thorough analysis, but the doubts were already raised.
No other company uses triclosan in the production of their oral care products. Since the pesticide is used in a wide range of other products, after some long discussions, many of the companies announced a new line of triclosan-free products, for example pet-food dispensers.
Maybe it would come as a surprise to you, but the manufacturer of Total has no intention of changing the formula of the subjected toothpaste. What is more frustrating, it still continues to market it as a product that improves the oral health. And it all came with the blessings of the FDA.