Activated charcoal. For a few years now it’s been popping up in all sorts of different things from artisan bread and ice cream to cleansing lotions and face masks—however, utilising the detoxifying and extraction benefits of charcoal for different health and aesthetic purposes is not exactly a new thing. In fact, it is centuries old. Understood to be used by the Romans to combat intestinal problems and mouth odours alike, it was later adopted by ancient Phoenicians and Hindus in water purification and various beauty practices. Fast forward to today and charcoal toothpaste, in particular, has gained immense popularity—hailed as an effective natural alternative to teeth whitening and dental care in general thanks to its ‘chemical-free’ composition appealing to those wanting a ‘cleaner lifestyle’.
But what do the experts say? Is it actually ‘better for you’ than regular toothpaste or are you doing your teeth more harm than good? Below, we consult Sydney-based holistic dentist, Dr. Lewis Ehrlich.
What exactly is activated charcoal toothpaste and how does it work?
Charcoal is an abrasive that removes surface stains and also acts as a ‘binder’.
What are the benefits (if any) of using charcoal toothpaste over regular toothpaste?
The benefits are that because of its abrasive nature, it has the capacity to remove surface stains on teeth making them appear lighter.
What are the downsides of using charcoal toothpaste?
Because it is an abrasive, charcoal toothpaste has the potential to cause damage to enamel creating sensitivity and exposing the more ‘yellow’ dentine. It can also get in between the join line between a ‘filling’ and a tooth leaving the tooth looking dark and stained.
What research has been done in the area of charcoal toothpaste?
There isn’t a lot of long-term data on these products and thus we don’t know what negative effects they may have. This is why I would exercise caution and stick to tooth paste that have proof of long-term benefits.
As a dentist, what are some of your preferred ways to whiten teeth?
The best way to whiten is using traditional whitening methods via at-home or in-chair whitening procedures performed by your dental professional. These have the best track record and are safe if supervised by a trained professional. It is important to get your teeth and gums assessed beforehand as everyone has a different whitening potential and if there are gum issues present, whitening can potentially make things worse.
Is charcoal toothpaste something you’d recommend to your patients?
No, I don’t really recommend it as the results I have seen have been mixed and there isn’t enough long-term data on efficacy and safety for me to confidently advise its use.
Key ingredients to avoid when looking for toothpaste, according to Dr. Lewis:
Sodium lauryl sulphate: It’s derived from petroleum or palm oil and can be irritating to the gums and other parts of the body.
Flavour: An umbrella term and may be artificial.
Sodium saccharin: Petroleum-based, suspected of contributing to reproductive issues.
Glycerin: Most often comes from unsustainable palm sources.
Triclosan: Alters hormone regulation in animals; may contribute to antibiotic-resistant germs; might be harmful to the immune system.
Microbeads: BPA-containing plastics. Exposure to BPA is a concern because of possible health effects of BPA on the brain, behaviour and prostate gland of foetuses, infants and children. Additional research suggests a possible link between BPA and increased blood pressure. The microbeads also end up in the water-ways.