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In today’s day and age where anyone can influence trends, commercials for different products can arrive in short, segmented bursts from multiple different online platforms. The newest circulating topic? Scroll through feeds and you may see videos of people scrubbing their teeth with black gritty toothpaste and extolling the benefits of activated charcoal toothpaste. Marketed as a natural whitening agent, the images change from a black toothy grin to award-winning smiles in minutes. It may seem strange, unpleasant, or just visually unappealing but here is the inside scoop on why charcoal is being added to toothpaste and how toothpaste, in general, is regulated.
Are We Brushing With Charcoal From The Grill?
The short answer is no! The charcoal that is used in toothpaste products is activated charcoal, not the charcoal you see turning juicy meats into dinner. Activated charcoal has been commonly used for a variety of medical reasons, most notably alcohol and drug poisoning. Activated charcoal has also been considered to assist with better wound healing outcomes, as well as an odor control agent for blisters and loss of skin.
What Are Activated Charcoal Toothpaste Benefits?
Activated charcoal toothpaste is thought to be an excellent natural alternative to other teeth whitening options such as ADA approved toothpaste and treatments used at the dentist’s office. It is purported to absorb and remove impurities that cause discoloration, as well as prevent plaque and cavity formation. Many products are advertised as organic, cruelty-free, and all natural.
Different methods of whitening include
- Dentist-supervised night-guard bleaching
- In-office powder bleaching
- Light-activated treatment
- Combination treatment
- Over the counter bleaching products
*A thorough overview of these different practices can be found here, compliments of the Journal of Evidence-Based Dental Practice.
How Is Toothpaste Evaluated In The United States?
The FDA governs the regulation and health claims of toothpaste. It also subcategorizes toothpaste designed to prevent cavities as an over the counter drug. In short, every toothpaste must be safe for the general public but does not have to prevent cavities, whiten teeth, or be approved by the American Dental Association. According to the American Dental Association website, all ADA approved toothpaste and dental related products must provide “scientific evidence demonstrating safety and efficacy.” Furthermore, the ADA tests/identifies multiple factors for products including abrasiveness, the potential risk for allergens, and presence of fluoride. The complete list of accepted ADA toothpaste can be found here. This type of regulation also applies to different categories of dental hygiene including toothbrushes, in-home tooth bleaching products, and drinking water filters to name a few.
Should I Join This Trend and Is Charcoal Toothpaste Safe?
Currently, the science behind this trend remains inconclusive. In 2017, the Journal of the American Dental Association cautioned dentists from recommending charcoal or charcoal-based whiteners, because of “lack of clinical and laboratory data” that demonstrated safe teeth whitening.
Concerns about charcoal products are particularly focused on how abrasive activated charcoal may be. Long-term use of extremely abrasive toothpaste or tooth cleaning products can deteriorate the surface layer of the tooth called enamel, leaving the second layer (dentin) exposed. Concern for this exposure includes the risk of worn dentition, ie: chronic tooth erosion and abrasion. The ADA uses a standardized scale for abrasion and will only approve toothpaste that is rated at 250 relative dentin abrasive units or less.
As of today, the ADA has not approved an activated charcoal brand of toothpaste. Many charcoal brands do not contain fluoride that is a requirement for all ADA approved toothpaste, as well as for the FDA to categorize the product as an over the counter drug. For now, charcoal toothpaste benefits must be compared against its risks as there are many other options for keeping your pearly whites sparkling.
Other important methods to avoid teeth stains include
- Limiting intake of wine, coffee, tea, and cola products
- Chewing ADA approved sugar-free gum, with use of ADA approved whitening toothpaste
- Avoiding/discontinuing smoking
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