Partially thanks to the rise of influencers, alternative methods of healthcare are becoming more and more popular. Dentistry hasn't been excluded from such trends. One of the latest fads to reach the world's teeth is charcoal toothpaste. Yes, it can make a real mess in your pristine white sink, but manufacturers have been calling it the new natural tooth whitener. But does charcoal toothpaste actually work? Well, experts have examined numerous brand offerings to find out.
A review of 50 charcoal toothpastes published in the British Dental Journal has come up with some damning results. Authors noted the numerous claims made by toothpaste brands. Over half of the 50 toothpastes were advertised as having therapeutic benefits, reports the Independent, while 30 percent said their formula could strengthen teeth. Claims regarding antibacterial, anti-fungal, and detoxifying benefits were also made.
However, not one of these claims has any scientific evidence to back it up, concluded experts. In fact, using charcoal toothpaste may actually harm teeth. This is because many brand formulas do not contain fluoride; a vital ingredient for warding off tooth decay. Only eight percent of the toothpastes tested included fluoride. But the presence of charcoal may cancel out this inclusion as the black stuff has the power to render fluoride useless.
It's the same story when it comes to whitening effects. Although almost all of the toothpastes tested claimed to be able to whiten teeth, the review's authors found that there wasn't enough free radical bleaching agent in the formulas to effectively remove stains. Dr. Joseph Greenwall-Cohen, co-author of the review, told the BBC that charcoal toothpastes are also potentially more abrasive than regular ones and could lead to enamel and gum damage.
If you're still curious about charcoal toothpastes, lead author Dr. Linda Greenwall recommends examining the ingredients list very carefully. Ensuring that your toothpaste contains fluoride, calcium, and phosphate is a good first step, she told the Independent, adding:
"The most worrying aspect about the marketing of charcoal pastes and powders appears to be a strong emphasis on the benefits which appeal to consumers, which have yet to be disproved. This ‘scientifically claimed until proved wrong’ approach is favoured over substantiated, evidence-based promotion.”
As a spokesperson for the British Dental Bleaching Society told the paper, expert opinion currently states that "charcoal toothpastes do not whiten teeth. They may help to remove yellow plaque from the surfaces of your teeth, but they do not whiten teeth.”
Weirdly, charcoal's tooth-related history goes back centuries. As the BBC reports, ancient Greeks used it to get rid of stains and mask nasty smells from diseased gums. Today's charcoal toothpastes often contain an activated form of the ingredient. Activated charcoal is sometimes used to treat overdoses or poisonings, notes Medical News Today. And it is also peddled as a detox method by the Instagram crowd.
The new dental research has made a few things clear. One: don't believe everything you read on social media. Two: do your research before falling prey to company advertising. And three: always consult with some kind of expert before changing up your everyday health habits.