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In recent times, ​charcoal​ or ​activated charcoal ​has been in the spotlight.  In the health, beauty and wellness industry it has been praised for its apparent beneficial properties. It can now be found in various products, from shampoos to facewashes.

However, its growing popularity has now in more recent times seen it infiltrate the dental industry.

There is now activated charcoal powder for your teeth – designed to be mixed with water and used as a toothpaste. To make it easier for consumers to use, it has been added into some toothpastes. It can also be found integrated into toothbrush bristles and even floss.

We here at Boutique Dental Care have noticed more people are asking us about it and wondering if it will do everything it is claimed to do. That is why we decided to get the facts together and write this article.

So, what do you need to know about charcoal-containing dental products?  Is it worth the hype? And should you be using it?

 

What is activated charcoal?

Firstly, let’s start from the beginning by understanding what activated charcoal is and where it comes from.

Activated charcoal is a special form of carbon which is highly absorbent.  This means that other substances can easily bind to its surface.​

It is made through a process of burning carbon-rich materials, such as wood, coconut husk and bamboo, at a very high temperature to create charcoal.  This resulting charcoal is a black, odourless powder.​

It becomes ‘activated’ through a special process.

During the ‘activation’ process, lots of microscopic holes and crevices are made on the surface of the charcoal particles through a controlled oxidised reheating process or by chemical means. This increases the surface area of the charcoal. By increasing its surface area, more available bonding sites are created for other substances to adhere to.

 

Did you know  Just one teaspoon of activated charcoal has the same surface area as a football field!1

Due to its absorptive properties and its large available surface area, activated charcoal has been commonly used in water filtration systems to remove unwanted particles and elements. But it has also been widely used in the hospital setting, to help in the management of poisonings and drug overdoses.​

Let’s explore how this would work in your mouth then.

 

How does activated charcoal benefit your mouth and dental health?

Well, if you believe the product advertising and information, then it is simple – if you are brushing or flossing with a charcoal-based dental product, the activated charcoal, often in the presence of bentonite clay, binds to the tooth’s surface.  The charcoal then ‘holds’ the plaque, bacteria and unwanted deposits found in the mouth, allowing it to supposedly be removed and rinsed away.​

However, is this too good to be true?

Potentially.  Given the high absorptive capacity of activated charcoal, any fluoride or other active ions, which are clinically proven to be effective in controlling bacteria and remineralising the teeth may then not become available either.

They too may become bound in the activated charcoal and are also lost.​

proven brushing up charcoal chatswood boutique dental care

So, what would the benefits of activated charcoal on oral health be?

This is where things get interesting. 

As I am sure that, like us at Boutique Dental Care, you have seen charcoal-containing dental products claiming to offer a vast range of different benefits. 

If you are a social media user, then you most likely will have seen the ‘​before and after’ claims that charcoal-based toothpaste can whiten your teeth (no photo filters needed). 

 

But, what does the literature and science have to say?

In 2017, a literature review by Brooks, Bashirelahi and Reynolds on 50 charcoal-containing toothpastes found that they claimed they could have a whitening effect, that they provided antiseptic, antibacterial and antifungal properties and/or were capable of remineralising and strengthening teeth. Additionally, 88% of them also used consumer-appealing terms, such as eco-friendly, natural, organic, herbal and/or pure, in their advertising.​

So, what were their conclusions about the effectivity of charcoal-based toothpaste on the mouth?

That there was “insufficient scientific evidence to substantiate the cosmetic, health benefits or safety claims of marketed charcoal-based dentifrice [toothpaste]”​.​ 

Okay, so moving forward to 2019, to another study published by the British Dental Journal.​

This study looked more closely at the claims of charcoal-containing dental products raising concern about the potential adverse effects and concluded the following:

  • Many claimed to be of low abrasiveness; yet to date, these claims have not been independently verified. This is a concern as if the formula is too ​abrasive it may result in tooth wear​.
  • In the pursuit of whiter teeth users may brush more vigorously, more frequently or excessively, or for extended periods with the product which could ​potentially cause more harm than good, especially to some fillings.​  
  • Charcoal-containing toothpaste ​does not counter the cause of bad breath​, known as halitosis​.
  • The ​charcoal particles may potentially accumulate in periodontal pockets​ for patients with established ​periodontal disease​ (an advanced form of ​gum disease​) resulting in discolouration of periodontal tissues.
  • Activated charcoal ​does not change the colour​ of teeth but may simply act by only removing ​extrinsic or surface staining​ from teeth.
  • Charcoal ​particles may build up in some areas causing aesthetic concerns for users​, such as around the margin between a tooth and filling or become caught in the anatomical features of a tooth, such as fissures and cracks.​

 

What does this mean then for charcoal-containing toothpaste?

Simply put, at this stage there is ​no current scientific evidence ​to support any of the claims made bby charcoal-containing dental products.​ 

So could activated charcoal dental products be just a gimmick or marketing ploy? 

Well, that’s for you to decide!

 

Alternatively, have activated charcoal dental products resulted in something unexpected which could actually be beneficial? Perhaps!

It has been suggested by Greenwall, Greenwall-Cohen and Wilson,​ that due to the increased popularity of charcoal-containing toothpaste, it may have altered people’s perception and increased user’s oral hygiene habits at home. Thus increasing the number of people who brush their teeth each day and seek help from dental professionals.​

beneficial brushing up charcoal chatswood boutique dental care

Hold on let’s consider this for a moment 

Because people are interested in trying activated-charcoal dental products, it may have inadvertently resulted in people taking better care of their oral hygiene?! But didn’t research also find that it could have adverse side effects and potentially cause tooth wear? 

Yes, and yes.

So, where to from here?

Well, if you do choose to use a charcoal-containing dental product – ​especially the powders or toothpastes​ – then at Boutique Dental Care, we would like to make a few suggestions.

Check the ingredients – see what is in it and if it is safe. Check how abrasive it is before you start using it on your teeth.

Stop to think also about why you want to use a charcoal-based product – what you are trying to achieve?

For example, if it is because you want whiter, brighter teeth then it may be worth considering a whitening product that is endorsed by the dental industry and is proven to be safe and effective. While, yes, it may be more costly, at least you know that it will work.

Also, at Boutique Dental Care, we would recommend that you consult your regular oral health professional first before switching toothpastes, just to check that it is not going to cause any potential issues to your teeth or mouth.

If you have been using one, then please let us know at your next visit, as it helps to be more aware of your dental health.

For example, the research found that only 8% of charcoal-based toothpastes contained fluoride.​ And fluoride is known to be effective in strengthening and remineralising the teeth to prevent tooth decay.​

So, if you are using a charcoal-based toothpaste or powder, then we may recommend you use something else in conjunction to help protect your teeth from dental decay during this time.

 

At, Boutique Dental Care, we are only here to help.  And we believe that everyone is entitled to their own decisions. But we just want to make sure that you know all your facts first, so you can make an informed decision about your dental health. So, please don’t ever be afraid to ask us anything!

 

So, what to expect if you are going to use an activated charcoal toothpaste or powder?

If you love the idea of your mouth turning into a beautiful shade of blackish-green, then we think you will love charcoal toothpaste. Remember to use gently​ ​ and brush using a soft toothbrush​ – to help avoid the risk of tooth wear and gum recession. Do not try to scrub or over brush. Always use those small circular motions that we recommend.

Oh, and there is something which you can expect, and it is something that they don’t show you social media…  The mess and the clean-up. Unfortunately, due to its colour, the charcoal may stain your sink, towels, clothes and the bristles of your toothbrush may go grey. So be careful and sensible if you are using it.

Finally, activated charcoal is not the same as the charcoal you would find after a barbeque. So, please whatever you do, don’t try using that!

Hopefully after reading this article you have more of an understanding of what activated charcoal is and where it comes from. While it does have its place in the world, unfortunately the scientific research is inconclusive on how beneficial or effective it is when it comes to your dental health.

If you have any further questions about activated charcoal dental products, then make an appointment with one of our friendly dentist and oral health professionals at Boutique Dental Care on (02) 9054 5281.  They will be able to give you more accurate advice tailored to your dental needs.

 

From the Boutique Dental Care team, we thank you for reading and don’t forget to check back regularly as we continue to explore dental  matters that interest you!

 

 

References:

  1. Soto P. National Capital Poison Center: Activated charcoal. URL:’ https://www.poison.org/articles/2015-mar/activated-charcoal. Accessed 4 January 2020.
  2. Tadda M A, Ahsan A, Shitu A, et al. A review on activated carbon: process, application and prospects. J of Advanced Civil Engineering Practice and Research 2016;2(1):7-13.
  3. Greenwall L H., Greenwall-Cohen J, Wilson N H F. Charcoal-containing dentifrices. British Dent Jour 2019;226:697-700.
  4. Mc Carty B, Letteri N, Singletary J. Activated charcoal as a whitening dentifrice. 5​th​ American Dent Congress. 2015. URL:’ https://www.longdom.org/proceedings/activated-charcoal-as-a-whitening-dentifrice-29670.html. Accessed 4 January 2020.
  5. Brooks J K, Barshirelahi N, Reynolds M A. Charcoal and charcoal-based dentifrices. The Journal of Am Dent Assoc 2017;148(9):661-670.
  6. Australian Dental Association. Fluoride. URL:’https://www.ada.org.au/Your-Dental-Health/Adults-31-64/Fluorid​              e. Accessed 6 January 2020.