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Activated charcoal: do you need to go to black for the best oral health?

Activated charcoal has become the latest internet dental health craze. Various brands claim white teeth fast, fresher breath and mouth detoxification, naturally free from toxic chemicals. But is the hype true? We’ve looked at the science behind these claims and give you our professional opinion about black toothpaste and toothbrushes.

What is activated charcoal toothpaste?

Activated charcoal is a fine powder made from superheated coconut husks, wood or peat. The particle surfaces are highly irregular and very porous, like a sponge. The powder can bind other substances strongly, preventing absorption by the body. It’s a common component in water filters.

Activated charcoal tooth powders and pastes often combine the powder with other ingredients including clay and essential oils.

Is activated charcoal safe for use?

  • It’s certainly safe to swallow and ingest, it’s used in hospitals globally to help treat drug overdoses.
  • It can make stools turn black with extended or excessive use.
  • Accidental inhalation of the powder can lead to pneumonia and serious respiratory illness.
  • It’s abrasive so it could: traumatize gums with brushing; scratch and thin tooth enamel with regular repeated use, leading to teeth sensitivity; cause teeth to yellow in colour because of thinning enamel allowing more underlying tooth dentine to shine through; and contribute to gum recession.

Does activated charcoal whiten teeth?

No. Activated charcoal has no chemical whitening ability, unlike bleaching products generally used for teeth whitening. The fine particles of powder could lodge in tooth grooves, fissures and restoration margins, creating further tooth discolouration.

The abrasive nature of the charcoal will help remove surface stains from teeth, but will not change the intrinsic colour of the teeth. Coconut husk, the most commonly used version of activated charcoal for dental purposes is the hardest type, so the most abrasive type too and has been shown in one study to cause enamel roughness in just one month of use.

Does activated charcoal freshen breath and detoxify the mouth?

The physical and chemical properties of activated charcoal mean it cannot bind alcohol, strong acids or alkali substances. A study has found it has no ability to adsorb S.Mutans, a major oral disease-causing bacteria. Based on these factors, it’s unlikely that activated charcoal will have any anti-inflammatory or detoxification effects helpful for freshening breath and improving oral health.

How does activated charcoal work in toothbrushes?

The same properties of activated charcoal that prevent it from effectively detoxifying the mouth have been shown to help prevent bacterial plaque growing on toothbrush bristles.

Should you use activated charcoal products for good oral health?

The evidence is currently poor to support the trend for activated charcoal. It appears the harm outweighs the benefits for using the toothpaste. It most definitely will not whiten teeth. We recommend avoiding charcoal based toothpastes, powders or dentifrices of any kind. 

Charcoal embedded in toothbrush bristles shows some potential for minimising bacterial plaque buildup between twice daily uses. Regardless of what toothbrush you use, it’s important to change the bristles at least every 3 months, if not sooner, for good mouth hygiene.

 

References

1. https://jada.ada.org/article/S0002-8177(17)30412-9/fulltext
2. http://iopscience.iop.org/1742-6596/884/1/012002
3. http://www.acarbons.com/activated-carbon-hardness/
4. https://doi.org/10.25163/microbbioacts.11011A0405090818
5. https://www.drugs.com/monograph/charcoal-activated.html
6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6104356/

 

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