I’m wondering if the charcoal toothpastes and flosses we’re seeing in the dental aisles are safe. I was at the local big box store the other day picking up a prescription and I noticed charcoal floss. I’d seen the toothpastes before and didn’t get on the bandwagon, but the novelty of the floss caught my eye. Is this something local dentists are promoting as safe to use? And, do they actually work?
Each dentist will have his or her own philosophies, so it’s impossible to say what all Elgin dentists are doing, but by-and-large, most professionals concur it’s more of a gimmick and have concerns that it could cause harm. Below, we’ll break down the premise of what the product manufacturers are saying, what science has to say about it, and what the potential risks are.
The argument for charcoal is that it’s a natural tooth whitener. It’s naturally porous and, when it’s activated, has a negative electrical charge. That means it attracts and absorbs toxins with a positive charge. Ergo, when you put it on your teeth, it should help lift surface stains. It won’t help lift deep stains—you’ll still need professional teeth whitening for that. And, it won’t help if you don’t visit your dentist for regular cleanings either.
The catch—there’s actually no scientific evidence to demonstrate activated charcoal has whitening capabilities. When researchers dug into 118 previous studies and published their findings in the Journal of the American Dental Association, their conclusion was there is “insufficient clinical and laboratory data to substantiate the safety and efficacy claims of charcoal and charcoal-based dentifrices.”
Do some people report having whiter teeth after using a charcoal toothpaste? Absolutely. The problem is, there’s no evidence to show it has anything to do with the charcoal. Just as you were lured to the floss by its novelty, people tend to brush more or pay more attention to their brushing when they have dental products they’re excited about. It certainly helps that charcoal turns your mouth black, which makes it really easy to see what you’ve missed, so you can go back and correct it. Ergo, it may not even be the charcoal that gets results—it could well be that these people with whiter teeth are simply brushing better.
Here’s where the trend becomes particularly worrisome. Not only is charcoal unproven, but the latest research shows it could actually damage teeth. A paper published in the Journal of Physics put a charcoal toothpaste up against a traditional one and discovered that the surface of the tooth becomes “rougher” when charcoal is used. In short, it’s damaging the enamel and enamel does not grow back. Ergo, those who use it regularly could be creating rough spots that present the perfect environment for bacteria to thrive, increasing their decay risk, and increasing the chances of developing sensitivity. What’s more, charcoal can find its way into tiny grooves and crevices and stay there. Given the damage it can cause, you may be unwittingly doing things which will make your teeth look gray or darker. Reports are pouring in about it collecting around the margins of fillings and other restorations too—definitely not the aesthetics people are going for.
The bottom line—if you want whiter teeth, take good care of yours, brush regularly, and follow through with your regular cleanings and checkups. If you want a smile with extra dazzle, opt for professional teeth whitening.
This blog is sponsored by Elgin dentist, Dr. Steve Sirin.
Image Credit: “Charcoal coconut-toothpaste on a finger for display” Marco Verch via Flickr.