Many of us have been taught that brushing daily is one of the best ways to avoid cavities and gum disease but recent research indicates that the presence of an antibacterial agent in some toothpastes makes them more effective.  According to the new study conducted by a team from the Cochrane Oral Health Group, toothpastes that contain the antibacterial agent, triclosan, and a copolymer that prevents triclosan from being washed away reduce occurrences of plaque, gingivitis, bleeding gums, and tooth decay compared to toothpastes that lack these ingredients.  The results of this study have been published in a review in The Cochrane Library.

“We are very confident that adding triclosan and copolymer to a fluoride toothpaste will lead to additional benefits, in terms of less plaque, inflammation, bleeding, and tooth decay,” according to study co-author Philip Riley, a researcher at the University of Manchester in England.  However he concedes, “We don’t know how important the effects are clinically.”

The Study on Toothpaste Containing Antibacterial Agents

The most common problems leading to tooth loss are gingivitis and tooth decay that are caused by the buildup of plaque which is a film of bacteria on the surface of the teeth.  If these problems are not treated, they can lead to periodontitis which is a more serious and painful gum disease that causes tooth loss.  For this study, the research team analyzed 30 published studies of toothpastes with triclosan and copolymer to gauge their effectiveness compared to fluoride toothpastes without these ingredients.


After analyzing the data, the team discovered a 22 percent reduction in plaque, a 22 percent reduction in gingivitis, a 48 percent reduction in bleeding gums, and a 5 percent reduction in tooth decay or cavities compared to toothpastes without triclosan and copolymer.  However, the evidence they gathered does not show a significant reduction in the occurrence of periodontitis when toothpastes with triclosan and copolymer are used.  The findings of this review coincide with the findings of a previous independent study by the ADA’s Council on Scientific Affairs.  In this study, they reviewed data regarding the safety and effectiveness of triclosan and copolymer and concluded that there was sufficient evidence in the data to show that these toothpastes helped reduce cavities, plaque, and gingivitis.

While the evidence seems to support the idea that toothpastes with triclosan and copolymer are more effective for fighting cavities, plaque, and gum disease, most of the studies reviewed in the Cochrane report were supported directly or indirectly by toothpaste companies.  Only three of the studies in this report were done by independent researchers.  The research team believes that more independent research is needed to fully explore the effects of antibacterial agents such as triclosan in toothpaste.