A fine, black powder emergency room physicians sometimes use for treating patients with overdoses, has entered the health and beauty world in the form of shampoos and soaps to deodorants and toothpaste.
Activated charcoal, which the gut does not absorb, binds to toxins and particles and carries them away, leading to an influx of products with cleansing claims. Toothpastes with activated charcoal promising pearly whites have become a particularly popular trend fed by social media.
But do they work?
Everything, including regular toothpaste, has a level of abrasion, said Tamanna Tiwari, MPH, MDS, BDS, assistant professor of community dentistry and population health in the School of Dental Medicine. “When you use a product that has been tested … we are measuring the abrasion and the potential side effects.”
Fad or Fact?
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Because charcoal toothpaste is rough, it can actually remove those stains off the teeth, but it can also damage the enamel, she said.
“So you can use charcoal toothpaste over and over and say, ‘Oh wow. My teeth are white.’ But if you look under a microscope, you'll see that your teeth are getting abraded.” And that can lead to more plaque, stains and microorganisms getting attached to them, Tiwari said.
Most studies are inconclusive
“Other whitening kinds of toothpaste that are available have gone through a rigorous scientific process, evidenced in a clinical trial, and are determined to be safe and effective. I couldn't find any studies that actually say charcoal toothpaste is effective. Most of the studies that I've looked at said it's inconclusive, or it's not working.”
Continued use also can allow plaque buildup and teeth sensitivity, Tiwari said, adding that she also worries about what the products might do to the rest of a person’s mouth. “There are studies that have started to look at these impacts, but we don't have enough research yet to definitively say that it is actually harming you.”
Other claims being made around these unregulated products, including reducing mouth ulcers and nourishing the gums, have no proof, Tiwari said. “Those things are just advertising claims. They're not specifically embedded in any evidence.”
Her best advice: “Just wait to see what the evidence tells us about this product before committing to it. There needs to be more research.”