It doesn’t seem like it was that long ago when the average person wouldn’t dream of putting charcoal in their mouth. Now, the digital and in-person shelves are full of products with this as the active ingredient, and it’s all selling out.
To be fair, it’s not the charcoal bricks that manufacturers use in their products. It’s an ingredient called activated charcoal, a black powder that emergency rooms have had on hand for treating toxic overdoses for years.
What’s Activated Charcoal?
Activated charcoal is made by heating up carbon-rich materials like wood, coconut shells, peat, and sawdust. The material reaches temperatures so high that the molecules are free to absorb toxins again.
But the ability to absorb toxins has potential outside of the emergency medical field, and the health and beauty industry grabbed onto activated charcoal to make products like toothpaste.
What is it about charcoal that makes it such a popular material? And should you really be using it in your mouth?
We’ve broken down the pros and cons of activated charcoal toothpaste here so you can make an informed decision before using it.
1. Pro: It’s a Whitener — Kind Of
Most people who use charcoal toothpaste are interested in its whitening properties. And it does appear to remove surface stains due to its mild abrasiveness.
Brushing with an abrasive pulls off tartar and extrinsic stains that aren’t too deep in the enamel. Since activated charcoal has the absorbent properties we mentioned earlier, other surface stains that aren’t removed with the abrasive get absorbed into the toothpaste and washed away with rinsing.
However, the ingredient doesn’t remove stains below the enamel and doesn’t have a natural, long-lasting whitening effect. You’ll probably notice whiter teeth after about a week of consistent use, but the effect will go away when you stop using the toothpaste.
2. Pro: You Get Fresher Breath
Any toothpaste can give you fresher breath because you’re cleaning your teeth. The added ingredient of activated charcoal takes this up a notch because of its absorbent properties.
The ingredient attracts plaque, tartar, and food particles, pulling them out and absorbing them into the toothpaste. When you rinse your mouth, it all goes down the sink, leaving you with cleaner teeth and fresher breath.
To enhance this effect, some toothpaste products with activated charcoal include an added ingredient, like mint.
3. Pro: You Can Use Charcoal Toothpaste With Medications
You might’ve heard the rumor that activated charcoal adversely affects certain medications. It’s understandable since the absorbent properties counteract drug poisoning and overdoses.
But unless the medication you’re on has prolonged contact with the toothpaste in your digestive tract, it shouldn’t affect the ingredients. Keep in mind that the ER has patients ingest the activated charcoal to absorb the toxins in the stomach. You don’t need to worry if you don’t eat your toothpaste.
4. Con: Charcoal Can Increase Your Teeth Sensitivity
The same abrasiveness that helps remove stains is a downside of this kind of toothpaste. You shouldn’t use charcoal products daily because it wears down the enamel, exposing the sensitive layers of dentin.
Not only does this make the teeth look yellow instead of white, but it increases your sensitivity to cold and hot temperatures. If you plan on using charcoal toothpaste to get whiter teeth, be cautious about limiting the length of time you use it.
5. Con: Most Charcoal Toothpaste Skips Fluoride
Fluoride is an essential ingredient required by the enamel to keep it strong and protected. We need fluoride, but our bodies don’t produce it.
Your enamel protects the sensitive layers of your teeth, from the dentin to the nerve roots. Without fluoride, this hard outer layer weakens and decays.
Unfortunately, most toothpaste products with activated charcoal don’t have fluoride or other ingredients that protect against cavities. If you have gingivitis or more progressive gum disease, this toothpaste doesn’t help defend your tissue against the ravages of bacteria, plaque, and tartar.
Making a choice between charcoal-based and other toothpaste products is a personal decision. It’s obviously a “safe” ingredient since emergency rooms use it to help prevent toxic poisoning.
If you’re looking for a long-term toothpaste that you can use to protect your mouth from cavities and gum disease, charcoal toothpaste isn’t the answer for you. But it can be a great help if you need whiter-looking teeth quickly.
Is it effective, and will it give you the results you’re looking for? Now that you know the pros and cons of charcoal toothpaste, you can decide for yourself!