There are trends in every industry, and the oral health industry is no exception. One of the latest trends in oral health is charcoal toothpaste. The selling points sure make it sound enticing, but is charcoal toothpaste safe for your teeth and gums? Let’s take a closer look at charcoal toothpaste and what you need to know.
What Is Charcoal Toothpaste?
Charcoal toothpaste is toothpaste, or tooth powder, containing activated charcoal. Keep in mind that activated charcoal is different from your standard charcoal, like the charcoal bricks you might use to start your grill. Activated charcoal is made by burning certain high-carbon materials and then heating them in incredibly high heat—between 1,100 and 1,600 ℉—to activate it. The charcoal is then washed and dried, creating a fine-grained, absorbent product suitable for medical use.
Charcoal has been used for centuries around the world to absorb poisons, treat stomach problems, and, yes, to clean teeth. Activated charcoal is still used in medical settings to help absorb certain ingested poisons or substances, but other uses should be carefully considered. Recently, charcoal use has become popular in cosmetic products once again—particularly in those that are advertised as “natural.” Activated charcoal toothpaste products have shown up everywhere, on the shelves, in targeted ads, and all over social media. Most charcoal toothpastes are generally touted as whitening, but there’s more to charcoal toothpaste than meets the eye.
The History of Charcoal Toothpaste
Using charcoal for oral health isn’t new. There’s evidence of charcoal being used for oral hygiene by early populations, including a record of Hippocrates recommending a charcoal dentifrice powder over 2,500 years ago. By the 18th century, some Europeans cleaned their mouths with rags rolled in soot or a powder made of burnt bread. However, once a more modern version of toothpaste was made available in the mid-1800s, it smelled, tasted, and looked significantly more appealing. As such, western cultures moved away from charcoal toothpaste until its recent resurgence. So, if it’s been used for centuries, does charcoal toothpaste work as well as advertisements would have you think?
Does Charcoal Toothpaste Work?
Perhaps you’ve recently seen an ad for charcoal toothpaste and thought, “Does charcoal toothpaste work?” The answer to that is complex. Because activated charcoal is both abrasive and porous, charcoal toothpaste products claim they can remove stains to whiten teeth, eliminate plaque, and freshen the breath. Scientifically speaking, there is some data to support these claims. However, there are significant risks to consider as well.
How does charcoal toothpaste work? Let’s start with potentially positive effects on your oral health. Activated charcoal is negatively charged, so positively charged molecules are attracted to it. Because of this, research indicates that activated charcoal does have the ability to absorb accumulated plaque on the surface of the tooth. This could also help to temporarily alleviate bad breath. Additionally, activated charcoal can attract the acidic compounds responsible for staining your teeth, aiding in making your teeth look whiter. However, since the charcoal can only absorb stains on the outside of the teeth, the effect is temporary. Charcoal toothpaste doesn’t impact internal staining. In other words, charcoal toothpaste does not bleach your teeth. Also, because of the abrasiveness that provides the whitening effect, charcoal can cause damage to your teeth.
Is Charcoal Toothpaste Safe?
So then this begs the question: Is charcoal toothpaste safe? Unfortunately, when used repeatedly, charcoal toothpaste can damage both your teeth and your gums. In fact, the American Dental Association (ADA) recently released a review of charcoal toothpaste products and, ultimately, warned against using charcoal toothpaste products. They also recommended that dentists advise their patients to be cautious about using charcoal toothpastes. There are several reasons for this.
First, charcoal toothpaste is extremely abrasive, which can damage the enamel on your teeth. Enamel is meant to protect your teeth and, when damaged, the dentin is exposed. This leaves your teeth more vulnerable to additional damage and decay. Over time, the abrasiveness of charcoal toothpaste can cause tooth staining, tooth sensitivity, and gum recession, as well as making you more prone to cavities.
Additionally, the charcoal in the toothpaste can get stuck underneath your gums. This can irritate your gums and cause inflammation or even gum trauma. The charcoal can also seep into any cracks and crevices of teeth, causing staining that’s difficult to remove. Dentists are also unsure what effect charcoal toothpaste has on the integrity of fillings, veneers, bridges, or crowns, so using it with these dental restorations could cause problems as well.
Charcoal Toothpaste: The Final Word
While activated charcoal may have benefits, it’s important to remember that when it comes to your oral health, charcoal toothpaste has definite risks. It might be fine to use charcoal toothpaste very rarely to address surface stains, but there are better whitening products out there that don’t risk the health of your enamel. Ultimately, using charcoal toothpaste frequently could damage your teeth and gums.
For that reason, dental experts like Dr. Kami Hoss suggest using toothpastes that provide cleaning benefits, without disrupting your mouth’s balanced microbiome. Unnecessarily harsh ingredients, like activated charcoal, can cause more harm than good. Your mouth is the gateway to your body, and your oral health is connected to your whole-body health. Keeping your teeth, gums, and mouth healthy is more important than you might think. Rather than taking chances with trendy products that make big claims, talk to your dentist about finding a toothpaste that meets your needs. Dr. Hoss also advises talking to your kids about the danger of social media trends. Your mouth will thank you.