Does your teeth really need charcoal toothpaste?

charcoal toothpaste safe

Last Updated December 20th, 2021

What is charcoal toothpaste?

Charcoal toothpaste is one of the latest trends in the field of oral healthcare and cosmetics as well. It has come to the attention of multiple global brands that other than cooking, charcoal can be an effective teeth whitener as well.

Activated charcoal is being considered as more effective than peroxides for removing stains from the teeth. It is effective even for the stains generated by the consumption of items like red wine, coffee and tea. Apart from being used in toothpaste, charcoal is also being incorporated in the toothbrush bristles to make the teeth shinier.

Many of the products are being claimed to have antimicrobial properties. But the fact remains that so far, no scientific study has verified the beneficial effects of charcoal on teeth.

Use of charcoal 

Charcoal has been used by many ancient cultures along with salt for the maintenance of teeth as it has good absorbing capabilities. Lack of regular varieties of toothpaste in many remote communities also made charcoal a popular tooth-cleaning agent for them.

The main component of the charcoal-based toothpastes is activated charcoal which is produced by oxidising certain organic elements in high temperatures. It is being said that the activated charcoal binds to stains and microorganisms effectively and thereby remove them from the teeth. Due to the absorbing power of activated charcoal, it has been listed by WHO for treating cases of poisoning and drug overdose.

Previously, activated charcoal has also been used in multiple fields that include weight loss, reducing flatulence and lowering cholesterol levels. On the other hand, it can also make certain drugs, like the hormonal birth control pills, ineffective.

What is activated charcoal?

Activated charcoal powder is produced by superheating materials like wood, coconut shells, sawdust, etc. which contains carbon. While it comes in powder form, it is not the same thing that is found in burnt food or charcoal bricks. The temperature ranges can be between 600 and 900 degrees Celsius and the process is termed as pyrolysis.

The process releases the previously bonded molecules from charcoal so that new molecules can get bonded with it. It is charred along with some other salts that create a porous structure and increases the overall surface area. In many cases, it is further oxidised in the presence of steam or carbon-di-oxide to generate further additional surface area.

The uses of activated charcoal

activated charcoal The uses of activated charcoal goes as far back as 3750 BC, when the Egyptian used it for various digestive ailments. Since activated charcoal is not absorbed by the body, it can carry the toxins out along with the other products of excretion.

It has been used as an antidote for poison since the early 19th century. However it does not act on all types of poisons and has been found ineffective with heavy metals, iron, lithium, potassium, acid or alkali poisonings. It is also used in patients with improper kidney function to help in the excretion of waste materials like urea from the system.

It is also effective in the treatment of fish odour syndrome. In this case, a compound called trimethylamine which smells like rotten fish, accumulates in the system. Some research indicates that activated charcoal can also lower cholesterol levels by binding effectively with cholesterol and cholesterol-containing bile acids. It is also effective to reduce sclerosis in the coronary blood vessels.

Here are some other uses of activated charcoal apart from toothpastes.

Reduction of gas: Some researches have indicated that activated charcoal can help in reducing the production of gas in the body after a meal.

Water Filtration: It has been used in the filtration of water for long periods and can effectively remove fluorides and heavy metal from water. However, it is not very effective in removing microorganisms or minerals that are found in hard water.

Skin treatment: It is often used on the skin to help in purifying it from various impurities. In some cases, it is also used as a prevention for acne and as an affective anecdote for insect or snake bites. It is also said to have anti-ageing properties and prevents cellular degeneration with the passage of time.

While activated charcoal is safe, there are some risks involved if it is provided to a drowsy or semi-conscious person, leading to its passage into the lungs. In some individuals, it can also lead to nausea and vomiting. It can also reduce the absorption of certain medicines in the body and hence it is best to use it under medical supervision. Individuals affected by reduced peristalsis should also not consume activated charcoal as it can enhance the symptoms.

The various forms of charcoal toothpaste

charcoal toothpasteThe use of charcoal in oral healthcare has mushroomed after 2017. Charcoal is being packaged in various ways by multiple brands for oral use. While some brands are selling charcoal toothpaste, there is also charcoal mouthwash available in the market.

Some other brands are propagating charcoal tablets that can be crunched in the mouth and then scrubbed over the teeth by a toothbrush. There are also forms of charcoal powder available that can be used directly on the teeth. Most of these products promote an organic and eco-friendly method of obtaining whiter teeth along with detoxification.

The benefits of activated charcoal

Activated charcoal is often used in filtering out undigested toxins and drugs from the kidneys to promote their overall health. Excess liquids and gases can pass through the large surface areas of activated charcoal and get absorbed, thereby neutralizing the stomach condition.

The action of activated charcoal can be likened to a sponge and as it absorbs these materials, including toxins, they do not get absorbed in the body. The use of activated charcoal as a natural water filter has been going on for a long time and it can absorb a wide range of chemicals, toxins and harmful microorganisms from the water. In recent times, it is being widely used in skin-care products and as deodorants. At the same time, activated charcoal cannot bind to some items like alcohol, lye and petroleum products.

The use of activated charcoal is reserved for the hospital emergencies and it is not suggested that people use them to neutralize toxins at home. Also, the effectivity of activated charcoal in treating conditions like high cholesterol, diarrhoea, flatulence is not yet verified by scientific studies.

The role of activated charcoal in any “detox” diet, which are often highlighted in the internet, also remain unverified. When used, a charcoal toothpaste can remove bad breath by absorbing certain bacteria and may help in removing some surface stains. They can also be used occasionally, after a professional tooth cleaning is done, to prevent the reoccurrence of stains.

What about the negative effects of using a charcoal toothpaste?

The cleaning of teeth can be defined as whitening or stain removing which are technically different from each other. The superficial stains are generally found on the enamel layer and can be removed by certain materials. The deeper stains can be caused by a weak enamel, certain types of medication and by the overuse of fluoride. The only way to remove these stains is through bleaching treatments that can penetrate through the enamel. While charcoal can remove stains through its absorbing and abrasive action, experts feel that the effect might be temporary.

When used on teeth, regular use of activated charcoal can lead to erosion of the enamel and cause damage to the teeth. Once the enamel gets eroded and the next layer, which is dentine, gets exposed, the colour of the teeth will get darker again.

In addition, this erosion also increases tooth sensitivity and gingival recession. Many experts also say that charcoal does not stay in contact with the teeth long enough to make a significant impact on the colour of the teeth.

The abrasiveness of charcoal can be a negative factor that can adversely affect the teeth. In addition, prolonged use of charcoal can also lead to the particles settling between the gums, leading to inflammation of the gums. There is also no proper research available that shows the effect of charcoal on materials like bridges, crowns and white fillings, which are used in various areas of dentistry.

In case charcoal particles get embedded in the small gaps between teeth, they can also cause black stains. An adverse effect on these materials can lead to further complications of teeth. At the same time, most toothpaste contains fluorides which are very important for the health of the teeth.

Importance of Fluoride content in a toothpaste

Ideally, any effective toothpaste should contain 1350 to 1,500 parts per million (ppm) of fluoride to resist tooth decay. So replacing the normal toothpaste by a charcoal toothpaste can lead to tooth decay. If there is enough fluoride in your drinking water, you can try using a non-fluoridated natural toothpaste.

So as per the experts, activated charcoal toothpaste can be best used as a supplement and not the ideal choice for regular use. For those with weak teeth or for the users of fluoride rinse, charcoal toothpaste should be used after seeking advice from the dentist. In a similar way, while multiple cosmetics use activated charcoal for soaking up excess oils and other impurities, there are no specific studies that highlight the cosmetic benefits of the material.

The property of activated charcoal to absorb harmful bacteria can be effective but it can also work in the same way with those microorganisms which are beneficial for our system. The absorbing power of charcoal can also minimise the effects of other beneficial components like essential oils, plaque removers and others, present in various toothpaste.

Should you use a charcoal toothpaste?

Even with all the beneficial effects of charcoal, there is not much supporting evidence or clinical trials that indicate its effectiveness in enhancing the whiteness of your teeth.

In addition, the long term effects of charcoal on teeth is still unknown. So even though there are a lot of claims being made, it is still not verified whether charcoal actually fulfils all those claims. Some dentists advise caution against the regular use of charcoal toothpaste as the downsides may outweigh the overall gains of the product.

Many brands claim that they have conducted sufficient tests to ensure that the size of the charcoal grains is optimized for safe dental use. But the exact results of such tests and the abrasion scores are not made public and there are no safety standards in place for these types of products.

The effective whitening action of charcoal toothpaste is considered as a myth by many dental experts. They believe that the only way to whiten teeth is by undergoing professional whitening services provided by experts. Any such toothpaste that does not contain the necessary amount of fluoride is not ideal for the teeth.

The charcoal particles can also erode the enamel and once it gets eroded, certain pigments like tannin can attach themselves to the teeth more easily. This will lead to more stains on the teeth. So the dentists suggest that it is best not to get carried away by the hype and promotional material and shift to charcoal toothpaste.

A regular fluoride-based toothpaste is still the best option to keep the teeth healthy and prevent cavities. When you feel it necessary to whiten your teeth, it is best to consult your dentist first, before taking any necessary steps.

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