Are charcoal toothpastes the real deal?

When it comes to health and beauty products, there is science and there are ‘fads’.

One of the hottest new trends in oral care products is activated charcoal toothpaste. But are they actually effective? And more importantly, are they safe?

The manufacturers and the marketers of charcoal-containing toothpastes make some bold claims about the benefits to oral health —these include teeth-whitening, stain removal, cavity prevention, treating gingivitis, and the removal of bacteria from the mouth.

The reality is that there is no scientifically proven or documented evidence to support these claims.

It is true that charcoal is natural and has been around for a long time. But just because a product is ‘natural’ does not mean that it is necessarily safe.

In all likelihood, charcoal-filled toothpastes whiten teeth because of their abrasive nature. If abrasive substances are mild and used in moderation, they can be effective at removing some stains from teeth. However, the risk of course is overuse of abrasives over a long period of time, which can damage enamel and make teeth more prone to decay.

Abrasives can also be hard on exposed roots and cause an increase in tooth sensitivity.

Some readers of this column might be old enough to remember Topol Smoker’s Toothpaste, which was heavily marketed in the 1980s (sadly, I am also old enough to remember!). Topol toothpaste was also abrasive in nature, but the abrasives were silica, which is sand, and baking soda.

The new wave of charcoal toothpastes seems to be the reincarnation of Topol toothpaste in my opinion. The difference, of course, between the 1980s and now is the pervasive nature of Internet marketing. Information, both good and bad, propagates online at the speed of light.

The bottom line: activated charcoal in toothpaste is not evil, and is probably not even bad. However, there are risks associated with overuse or chronic use over a long period of time. And of course, one should always be leery of toothpastes that are available online for $19.95!

There are numerous other safe, effective and proven ways to whiten teeth and reverse the effects of smoking and drinking coffee, tea and red wine.

Depending on one’s level of dental health, gum line health, and the presence of fillings, bonding or crown, different whitening methods are appropriate for different people. If in doubt about advertising claims, consult with your dentist about which method is the safest and most effective for you.

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