Have you seen the pictures in a friend’s Instagram feed? The odd black goo smeared all over a smiling set of teeth? Have you read the fantastic claims of stronger, whiter teeth from this quirky, trendy product? Charcoal toothpaste has joined charcoal face masks and charcoal ice cream in the list of products that are part of this charcoal trend. People seek out charcoal containing products for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that it is perceived as a natural product. The natural question to ask, and a really important one to consider, is charcoal toothpaste safe? Is it safe, not just for human ingestion, since all toothpaste is subject to accidental swallowing, but is it safe for tooth enamel? The answer, unfortunately, appears to be we just don’t know.
New, but Old
Although it is definitely the “it” ingredient of the moment, charcoal is not a new ingredient to oral care. Ancient Greeks and Romans were known to include finely ground charcoal in their tooth cleaning formulas. Including charcoal in oral care products continued into the 1930s and 1940s, with formulas advertised in the United States. Interestingly enough, both of those products were deemed unsafe by the American Dental Association.
The Natural Appeal
Charcoal is a natural product. Activated charcoal is made by burning natural materials and processing it into a fine powder. The resulting porous powder has been long used in hospital emergency departments to absorb certain chemicals and treat some poisonings and overdoses. It’s important to remember that safety for one use does not make it universally safe. Just because soap cleans your hands safely doesn’t mean you want to eat a large quantity.
What Does the Science Say?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a ton of research on using activated charcoal in toothpaste. The tubes themselves claim whiter teeth and detoxifying benefits. The term detoxifying actually doesn’t have a specific scientific meaning on a label, so there aren’t studies about this claim. There is one 2017 study looking at how charcoal changes the surface of tooth enamel. It found that surfaces brushed with charcoal toothpaste have a rougher surface.
What Do We Know?
Scrubbing with charcoal toothpaste may scrub off surface stains as it is very abrasive. We know that rough enamel surfaces are more susceptible to future staining and decay. Fluoride in charcoal toothpaste may be absorbed into the charcoal and less available to the teeth. Charcoal toothpaste also can damage composite fillings or other tooth restorations and may collect in the edges of the restorations, causing grey lines on the teeth. For someone who does not have sensitive teeth or restorations, a well-formulated charcoal toothpaste might be safe for occasional use, but we just don’t have enough information to know.
On the other hand, nanohydroxyapatite is shown to improve enamel surfaces. If you are looking to improve your teeth, a tooth gel containing bioavailable nanohydroxyapatite might just be the solution you are looking for.