What is Charcoal Toothpaste?

Charcoal has emerged as one of the most popular trends, featured on social media, on menus at hip restaurants, as an ingredient in juice cleanses, and now in toothpaste. While the use of charcoal for teeth-cleansing purposes may seem like a new fad, it actually dates back to Ancient Greece and is still widely used throughout the world. Charcoal toothpaste is now widely available in stores, online, and there are even dedicated subscription services. Charcoal is being marketed to consumers as a “natural” or “organic” method of whitening teeth. However, not all toothpastes are equally effective, and there are potential consequences of using charcoal toothpaste.

What are potential consequences of charcoal toothpaste?

Charcoal Toothpaste Can Cause Enamel Abrasion

Enamel is the hard, protective layer on the outside portion of the tooth. Charcoal is a naturally abrasive substance, allowing for the rubbing away of some surface level stains on your teeth. The same abrasive property that can remove some of the surface stains on teeth can also remove enamel. As it is abraded, it becomes rougher, diminishing the shiny appearance of teeth. Abrasion also makes the enamel layer thinner, making the teeth look more yellow, allowing more of the naturally darker dentin to show through. Thinner enamel can also increase tooth sensitivity, especially to hot and cold temperatures. On top of all of that, tooth-colored fillings tend to be less durable than tooth-structure, so those can be worn away even more than the enamel as a result of using charcoal toothpaste.

Charcoal is Used in Medicine as a Form of Medication Binding

In medicine, charcoal is often used to sequester overdosed medications or acute poisoning. It is essentially able to grab onto the extra medication or poison and prevent its absorption by the body. However, this is not specific just to “harmful” toxins. If consumed in large enough quantities, charcoal may prevent your body’s absorption of prescribed medications. This is especially important for people being treated with life-threatening illnesses, or those taking birth control pills or other daily medication.

Charcoal Toothpaste May Lack Fluoride for Decay Prevention

Toothpaste is an important source for fluoride, which protects against tooth decay. Fluoride ions can strengthen teeth by combining with their mineral components. Many leading brands of toothpaste have historically contained levels of fluoride to provide additional benefits while brushing. Charcoal toothpaste often does not include fluoride, and even if it does, the fluoride may be rendered inactive through the same medication binding process described above.

Charcoal Toothpaste Can Cause Cosmetic Issues

Overuse of charcoal toothpaste can cause a gray appearance to your teeth. The charcoal can settle into small surface defects of fillings and stain them black or gray. There’s also the issue of enamel abrasion as discussed above, which creates a duller, yellower appearance of the teeth.

What do we recommend?

Safer and More Effective Recommendations for Whitening

At Fountainhead Dentistry, we typically recommend whitening with hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. The peroxides work by forming free radicals, which can target stains and break up the pigments, causing them to appear less dark. This process does not remove any enamel, and maintains the integrity of the dentin and tooth structure while whitening. There are many options available, from over-the-counter whitening strips to 1-day in-office whitening. However, this method may still cause sensitivity, and we recommend consulting with your dentist before starting. If you have any questions, schedule a consult appointment with Dr. Allan Seidman, Dr. Lara Seidman, Dr. Melanie Newman or Dr. Jeffrey Pearlman, or ask us during your next cleaning!

References

Brooks JK, Bashirelahi N, Reynolds MA. Charcoal and charcoal-based dentifrices: a literature review. The Journal of the American Dental Association. 2017 Sep 1;148(9):661-70.

Greenwall LH, Greenwall-Cohen J, Wilson NH. Charcoal-containing dentifrices. British dental journal. 2019 May;226(9):697.

Pertiwi UI, Eriwati YK, Irawan B. Surface changes of enamel after brushing with charcoal toothpaste. InJournal of Physics: Conference Series 2017 Aug (Vol. 884, No. 1, p. 012002). IOP Publishing.

Qureshi Z, Eddleston M. Adverse effects of activated charcoal used for the treatment of poisoning. Adverse Drug Reaction Bulletin. 2011 Feb 1(266):1023-6.

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