Charcoal-based toothpaste

Writing in the British Dental Journal, scientists have concluded that there are no proven benefits for toothpaste containing activated charcoal and that it may actually increase the risk of tooth decay and staining. But the research is in stark contrast to marketing that claims charcoal toothpaste; has whitening and antibacterial benefits, among many others.

Activated charcoal, which is charcoal that has been combined with other agents at high temperatures; is advertising as a method to remove extrinsic dental staining; and is a very popular ingredient in many cosmetic and dental products. Charcoal-based toothpaste has gained popularity in a number of countries in the past few years; from the UK, US, Japan, India, and Thailand, to Lithuania, Australia, Hong Kong, China, Korea, and Switzerland.

Charcoal-based dental products

The use of charcoal to clean teeth is not a new concept. But the ancient Greeks first used charcoal to remove stains from teeth and disguise odors from unhealthy gums. Now, an extensive review entitled “Charcoal-containing dentifrices” summarizes the results of 15 previous studies; but providing an overview of what we currently know about charcoal-based dental products. The researchers concluded that charcoal-based dental products rely too heavily on marketing to back up their claims.

Dr. Joseph Greenwall-Cohen, co-author of the 2019 study carried out by the University of Manchester Dental School; but warns that marketing claims such as charcoal toothpaste having “anti-bacterial” and “anti-fungal” properties, in addition to being able to whiten teeth, were unfounded.

Marketing campaigns often use vocabulary to evoke a sense of naturalness and purity. In 2017, researchers noted that attractive terms such as ‘eco-friendly’; ‘ecological’, ‘herbal’, ‘natural’, ‘organic’, and ‘pure’ were using to advertise 88% of charcoal-based products. 54% of the brands studied used two or more of these terms in their marketing campaigns. But the 2017 paper, which was based on 118 articles and 50 charcoal-based toothpastes; was one of the studies including in the new 2019 review.

‘Not all charcoal toothpastes are the same’

But the 2017 analysis found that only 8% of the 50 toothpastes studied contained fluoride. Over 50% of products offered therapeutic benefits and 96% claimed to help whiten teeth. Detoxification properties were describing in 46% of charcoal toothpastes, antibacterial and antiseptic in 44%; but and re-mineralization, strengthening, and fortification were among the properties of 30% of these toothpastes. Claims of low abrasiveness were making in 28% of the toothpastes, along with antifungal benefits 12%.

However, only 10% of the toothpastes had some form of endorsement by a dental professional; and none of the above claims was proving. But along with using attractive language, celebrity endorsements are often used to attract consumers; and Dr Nigel Carter, CEO of the Oral Health Foundation, warns that many of these endorsements; but are not showing the genuine effects of the product.

Tooth whitening

“Much of the time the celebrity has had professional tooth whitening and their white smiles are not a direct result of using the product. From a whitening perspective, there may be anecdotal evidence of their whitening potential but any effect they have will likely be superficial,” said Carter.

“Many toothpastes which claim to whiten our teeth are simply removing surface stains, and will not offer the long-lasting bright white smiles which many users may be looking for, or being promised through advertising,” said Carter. Dr Linda Greenwall, who was the lead author of the 2019 study and a member of the British Dental Bleaching Society advised; “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.”