By now, you don’t need to be a Portland family dentist to know that brushing with toothpaste that contains fluoride helps to protect teeth from the effects of tooth decay. However, a certain compound found in toothpaste may actually offer our bodies more than just healthy teeth and gums, according to the results of a new study.
A common antibacterial substance found in toothpaste may actually help to fight a variety of life-threatening diseases, including cystic fibrosis, when combined with another drug that has already received approval from the Food and Drug Administration.
Researchers from Michigan State University have discovered that when triclosan – a substance added to toothpaste to prevent the growth of bacteria – is combined with the antibiotic tobramycin, it eliminates the cells that protect the bacteria responsible for cystic fibrosis – known as Pseudomonas Aeruginosa – by as much as 99.9 percent.
The results of this study were published in the Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy journal.
How Cystic Fibrosis Effects the Body
Cystic fibrosis, or CF, is a common genetic disease that effects one in every 2,500 to 3,500 people who are diagnosed with the condition at an early age. CF causes a thick mucus to form in the lungs, which becomes a breeding ground for harmful bacteria.
The bacteria that grow in the mucus formed by CF is notoriously hard to eradicate due to a slimy layer known as biofilm that allows disease to thrive even when being treated with antibiotics.
Finding ways for helpful drugs to penetrate biofilms that protect dangerous bacteria is one of the primary challenges facing researchers today.
According to researchers involved in the study, there are a number of common biofilm-related infections that people develop, including ear infections and swollen gums caused by gingivitis. But other potentially fatal diseases can also take cover under a resistant biofilm, including endocarditis and infections caused by pacemakers and artificial hip implants.
A New Breakthrough Offers Potential New Treatment
As part of their study, researchers grew 6,000 biofilms in lab-controlled petri dishes. They then added tobramycin, along with a variety of other compounds, to see what was more effective at killing the bacteria lying underneath. While 25 of the compounds showed real promise, one in particular stood out among the rest – triclosan.
While previous research has established that triclosan, the compound found in toothpaste, isn’t effective at eliminating Pseudomonas aeruginosa alone, researchers were intrigued by the possibility of pairing it with tobramycin.
For over 40 years, triclosan has been a primary ingredient in many different types of commonly used household products, including soaps, makeups, and toothpastes due to the compound’s antibacterial properties. However, the FDA recently decided to limit its use in soaps and hand sanitizers due to a lack of evidence on the compound’s increased effectiveness and over concerns that it was being overused.
Conclusive data has, however, found that the compound’s use in toothpaste is both safe and highly effective at fighting gum disease. Triclosan is still commonly used in toothpaste today.
Conversely, tobramycin currently ranks as the most commonly used treatment for CF, but the compound doesn’t have great success at clearing the lungs of an infection. Patients typically use an inhaler to ingest the drug, yet still struggle with chronic lung infections. Those with CF eventually require a lung transplant.
Researchers hope this breakthrough will provide doctors with another potential option in helping to treat CF patients. Within the next year, researchers will begin to test the effectiveness of combining triclosan and tobramycin into one therapy on mice with hopes of beginning human trials shortly thereafter.
Unfortunately, simply brushing with a toothpaste that contains triclosan won’t help to treat a lung infection, but this discovery by researchers offers many CF patients new hope for the future.