A new study throws shade at the supposed health benefits of charcoal-infused toothpaste. A review in the British Dental Journal finds that charcoal provides little protection against tooth decay and could increase the risk of staining. Marketers have no scientific evidence to back up their claims that charcoal toothpaste is anti-bacterial or anti-fungal and helps with tooth whitening, according to the study’s authors. They say those claims were found to be unproven by a 2017 U.S. review of 50 products.
“The evidence highlighting any potential benefits of charcoal toothpaste over regular toothpaste is severely lacking,” said Dr. Joseph Greenwall-Cohen of the University of Manchester Dental School in the UK. He is one of the coauthors.
Charcoal-based products are increasingly popular among people who are looking for a low cost, quick-fix, tooth-whitening option. And doesn’t that pretty much describe all of us? But few of the charcoal products contain fluoride, which dentists strongly recommend for preventing tooth decay. Fluoride is what should matter most to consumers evaluating specific toothpaste ingredients, dentists say. Plenty of research finds toothpaste that contains fluoride can help prevent tooth decay and cavities.
Charcoal may be too abrasive.
The study warns regular charcoal toothpaste users that the abrasive ingredient can lead to tooth wear and more sensitive teeth. Frequent users find that dislodging charcoal particles from fillings can be difficult and that charcoal can irritate gums.
Some small studies looking at the effects of charcoal toothpaste suggest charcoal may erode the outer layer of enamel on teeth and expose interior tissue. Increasing the risk of tooth decay means charcoal may be too abrasive to tooth enamel, some of these studies suggest.
Marketing that promotes charcoal toothpaste as “natural” or “eco-friendly” may influence consumers that these products are good for the environment. Claims that these products are “antibacterial” or “antifungal” may persuade buyers that they help prevent or treat gum disease.“There is simply no scientific proof that these products are capable of detoxifying your mouth, offer any increased antimicrobial activities (antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral), or can fortify/remineralize/strengthen tooth structure,” said Dr. John Brooks. He is a researcher at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry in Baltimore who has done research on charcoal toothpaste. Brooks wasn’t involved in the British Dental Journal paper.
Charcoal is classified as a cause of cancer.
Brooks told Reuters he worries about chronically exposing the mouth to charcoal since the federal government has classified charcoal as a carcinogen. “Another potential health concern we uncovered was that one-third of the 50 brands of charcoal toothpaste we investigated included bentonite clay, a mineral that may contain crystalline silica, another recognized carcinogen by the federal government,” Brooks said.
Charcoal was first used for oral hygiene in ancient Greece to disguise unpleasant odors from diseased gums and remove stains from teeth. The charcoal contained in today’s toothpaste is usually a fine powder form of treated charcoal made from materials including nutshells, coconut husks, bamboo, and peat. Possibly wood and coal may be among the charcoal ingredients, the new review says.“In general, I would encourage all people to stick to regular toothpaste over charcoal toothpaste,” Greenwall-Cohen said. Other dentists say charcoal toothpaste is no quick fix and comes with some real risks attached. If stained teeth are a nuisance, look into changing your diet and seeing your dentist, they recommend.