Dentists issue warning about charcoal toothpastes

Dentists are warning consumers that charcoal-based toothpastes have the potential for increasing the risk of abrasions, do not whiten teeth and may contribute to tooth decay. A review published today (10 May) in the British Dental Journal warns about the fad for charcoal-based products, which it says is being fuelled by social media posts and celebrity endorsement, and casts doubts about the marketing and benefits of the products. 

The British Dental Bleaching Society advises consumers looking for whiter teeth to use regular fluoride-based toothpaste formulated to have a whitening effect, and urges dentists to educate patients about unproven claims of oral benefits and possible health risks associated with the use of charcoal-based formulations.

The new review considers evidence from 15 previous reviews and studies to assess claims made by manufacturers. It concludes that charcoal-based products may be over-reliant on marketing gimmicks and ‘folklore’ to substantiate their claims, and that consumers must be educated better on ingredients before using them, especially if there is potential for increased abrasivity. Using data on 50 charcoal-based toothpastes, the review says that as few as 8.0% of the pastes contained fluoride, while more than 50 per cent were claimed to have therapeutic benefits, and consumer-appealing terms such as eco-friendly, ecological, herbal, natural, organic and pure, appeared in the product advertisements for 88 per cent the products. 

Regarding whitening capabilities, dental experts regard the high absorbency of charcoal to contain insufficient availability of any free radical bleaching agent in a charcoal-based paste or powder capable of chemically reducing intrinsic staining present in enamel and bony tissue. In addition, ‘possible health risks’ associated with the use of charcoal-based toothpastes may also be related to the possible inclusion of human carcinogenic polyaromatic hydrocarbons in charcoal and the use of bentonite clay in some charcoal-based pastes which hold the plaque, bacteria and stained material in the pores of the charcoal. The review says there is insufficient supporting scientific data for many of the claims made.

Dr Linda Greenwall, lead author of the study and member of the BDBS says, “It’s imperative that consumers check the ingredients on the packaging of charcoal-based products before usage to ensure they include fluoride, calcium and phosphate to strengthen and protect tooth enamel. Tooth pastes need to contain therapeutic ingredients to strengthen and protect teeth and reduce gingivitis. Not all charcoal toothpastes are the same and some could potentially be causing lasting damage to a person’s teeth. Toothpastes should contain fluoride to have additional health benefits for the teeth.

Dr Joseph Greenwall-Cohen, co-author of the study and also a member of the BDBS explains: “Many people are seduced into thinking that these charcoal-based products are ‘healthy’ due to clever marketing tactics and claims. However, these are completely unfounded as there is no evidence whatsoever that proves this. Just because these toothpastes are fashionable, does not mean they are healthy for you.”

The BDBS advises: "If you are considering whitening your teeth, it is advisable to visit the dentist to see if you are a candidate for tooth whitening. The dentist will evaluate your teeth and check the health of your mouth prior to whitening your teeth. The UK legislation is strict concerning tooth whitening. Only a dentist and their trained team can undertake tooth whitening. Whitening tooth pastes do not whiten teeth, they help to clean surface plaque off teeth and help to maintain a white smile following professional tooth whitening. Patients seeking to whiten their teeth by means of toothbrushing may be better advised to consider using one of the well-known brands of regular fluoride-based toothpaste formulated to have a whitening effect and to brush their teeth effectively, removing plaque and extrinsic staining and giving the teeth a whiter appearance."

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