Charcoal Toothpaste: Side Effects, Dangers & Myths

Charcoal Toothpaste: Side Effects, Dangers & Myths
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Table of Contents

  1. What is Activated Charcoal
  2. Myths About Charcoal Toothpaste
  3. Good & Bad Properties
  4. Making Oral Health Worse
  5. Understand Your Oral Health Routine
  6. References
Charcoal has been popular in products like toothpaste because it may have some antibacterial, antifungal, breath-freshening, and whitening properties. But how does charcoal work to keep your teeth and mouth clean? Can it really whiten your teeth? Can it keep your breath fresh and reduce tooth decay?

What Is Activated Charcoal & Why Should I Put it on My Teeth?

Activated charcoal is a popular ingredient in many hygiene products, from skincare scrubs and masks to toothpaste and dietary supplements. Although this seems to be a new fad, charcoal has been used as an ingredient in several products for millennia, including toothpaste. For example, ancient Romans used charcoal to clean their teeth.

The newer term activated charcoal refers to a type of charcoal powder that has an increased surface area, making it better for scrubbing or abrasion. It comes from finer-grained charcoals from coconut shells, coal, bone char, sawdust, or olive pits, so it is porous.

Myths About Charcoal Toothpaste

Products with activated charcoal are proliferating on the shelves of drug stores, cosmetics shops, and natural health stores. Charcoal has some abrasive properties, so it may be a beneficial addition to facial scrubs or toothpastes. Theoretically, adding an exfoliant like charcoal can scrub away layers of dirt, food, plaque, or grease, which may lead to infections.

However, it is important to know that modern products, like toothpaste, which contain activated charcoal, do not have many scientific studies associated with their use. Medical researchers are just now learning about the potential downsides of these products, which can cause harmful side effects.

Here are some of the most common myths associated with activated charcoal toothpastes.

Charcoal Is Natural
Although charcoal is a common by-product of burning wood in a specific way, the “natural” occurrence of this product does not mean it is healthy. Not all types of charcoal are consumable, and some natural products companies may mislead consumers about the type of charcoal used in their products. They may also advertise that the toothpaste contains charcoal when it contains something else abrasive, like clay.
Charcoal Is Better Than Fluoride
If you are prone to tooth decay, which some people may be because of genetics, diet, or other factors, charcoal toothpaste may not contain enough fluoride, or any fluoride, which will help reduce bacterial or fungal growth in your mouth.
Charcoal Is Vegan
While some types of activated charcoal come from plant-based sources, it is equally common for charcoal to come from bone char, which is a type of fine charcoal made from animal remains.
Charcoal Is Cruelty-Free and Healthy
Many types of charcoal come from remains left over during food processing; however, some charcoal comes from non-digestible sources like wood.

The Good & Bad Properties of Charcoal Toothpaste

Charcoal can be a good addition, like some other types of abrasive products including baking soda, to toothpaste because the fine grains can remove superficial stains and slightly whiten teeth. However, constant use of this abrasive additive can cause problems.

Modern scientific research into the health properties of activated charcoal is very new, so most research is inconclusive. Charcoal has been used for several medical reasons throughout human history, but these anecdotal reports are just now being studied more thoroughly.

One review of studies on charcoal toothpastes, published in 2017, found mixed results regarding the potential benefits and harms associated with these products. Of 118 studies reviewed, 13 were eliminated because they involved brushing directly with sooth or just charcoal rather than a toothpaste with added activated charcoal.

Among the remaining 105 studies, two showed a reduction in tooth decay, but it was not able to show that this was related to the toothpaste. One showed that there was no impact compared to other toothpastes, and three showed negative outcomes, including increased tooth decay, reduction in tooth enamel, and overall worsened oral health.

The review also found that several of the toothpastes that advertised activated charcoal as the main ingredient were misleading. They contained higher quantities of other potentially harmful products, including betel leaves or clay.

You can ask your dentist for recommendations on toothpaste with activated charcoal and then read labels to look for specific products like fluoride that benefit your oral health.

Charcoal Toothpaste Can Make Oral Health Worse

Fine charcoal grains can remain in the mouth and get into fillings or small cracks in the teeth and make decay worse. These grains may also get caught in the gums and cause irritation, sensitivity, and even small cuts or lesions that can allow germs in. This can make tooth decay and overall oral health much worse in the long term. Some people with thin enamel can cause more wear and tear, which can increase the risk of cavities.

And some types of activated charcoal can cause more staining on teeth. Charcoal will also not remove some types of stains, like those from coffee or soy sauce.

Additionally, charcoal is not the most effective short-term whitening option. In a study comparing the effectiveness of charcoal, hydrogen peroxide, microbeads, and blue covarine, hydrogen peroxide and blue covarine were found to be the most immediately effective. Charcoal and microbeads could whiten teeth by scrubbing off some superficial stains, but they did not create the blue-shift effect that led to a perception of whiter teeth.

Understand Your Whole Oral Health Routine

Since there are some oral health risks associated with using charcoal toothpaste, consult your dentist before trying this product. This consultation will help you understand your personal oral health better overall, so you can make good product decisions when buying toothpaste, dental floss, mouthwash, and toothbrushes. The information can also help you decide whether you should use whitening strips, clear aligners, or other products that have a greater impact on your smile.

If you are concerned about getting brighter, whiter teeth, charcoal can help in the short term, but it is not the best option. Most people have stained or off-white teeth because they drink lots of coffee, tea, or soda; beverages with high levels of acid like sparkling water, juice, or alcohol; or eat lots of foods containing soy sauce or higher levels of sugar or acid.

Dietary changes, along with additions to your oral healthcare routine after eating and drinking, can improve the brightness of your smile for longer than just using activated charcoal toothpaste. Be sure to read the ingredients of activated charcoal toothpastes, and purchase from a reputable company.

References

Charcoal Toothpaste: What is It and Does it Work? Colgate. Date fetched: April 28, 2021.

Charcoal Toothpaste: Benefits and Risks. (November 2018). News-Medical, Life Sciences. Date fetched: April 28, 2021.

Charcoal Toothpastes ‘Don’t Whiten Teeth.’ (May 2019). BBC News. Date fetched: April 28, 2021.

Why Some People Are More Prone to Cavities Than Others. (September 2015). Women’s Health. Date fetched: April 28, 2021.

Charcoal and Charcoal-Based Dentifrices. (June 2017). The Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA). Date fetched: April 28, 2021.

Whitening Toothpaste Containing Activated Charcoal, Blue Covarine, Hydrogen Peroxide or Microbeads: Which One Is the Most Effective? (January 2019). Journal of Applied Oral Science. Date fetched: April 28, 2021.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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