Everyone loves a burger or some grilled veggies, especially hot off the charcoal grill. You may be surprised to know that charcoal has quite a few uses besides cooking, and it is even showing up in toothpaste. Dental researchers and toothbrushers worldwide are starting to give charcoal toothpaste a try.
What Is Activated Charcoal?
Cooking charcoal (or even the kind used for artist's pencils) is made by slow-burning natural materials, such as wood, peat or coconut shells. Activated charcoal is created for medical purposes by heating regular charcoal in the presence of a gas, causing it to become more porous. This is why, according to U.S. National Library of Medicine, activated charcoal can effectively absorb and trap toxic chemicals, making it part of the standard treatment for accidental poisonings.
In addition, there are some claims that activated charcoal can alleviate intestinal gas, lower cholesterol levels, prevent hangovers (although charcoal doesn't readily absorb alcohol) and help regulate bile flow problems (called cholestasis) during pregnancy. However, the LA Times notes that activated charcoal's absorbent properties mean it can interfere with other medications you take, such as hormonal birth control, and render them ineffective.
Why Charcoal Toothpaste?
Using charcoal as a teeth-cleaning method is nothing new. The ancient Romans brushed with everything from charcoal to tree bark, and the black powder can be found in a toothpaste recipe in a 19th century English homemaker's guide.
The last decade has seen a reemergence of charcoal-based toothpastes with claims of whitening, antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal and breath freshening properties, according to an article published in the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA). After reviewing a number of studies, the researchers concluded that more evidence is needed before they can confidently establish the safety and effectiveness of charcoal pastes.
According to the Omaha World Herald, researchers at the Creighton University Dental School attribute the resurgence of charcoal pastes to consumers' desire to find more efficient and effective ways of whitening teeth. The dental school is currently concluding a study that tested charcoal toothpastes against other whitening pastes and products and closely monitored the effect of charcoal on tooth enamel. The study used real extracted teeth from donors to measure qualities like abrasion and shade of whiteness. The researchers are looking to publish their promising results in the near future.
Is Charcoal Toothpaste Right for You?
When you think of putting black toothpaste on your toothbrush, don't worry about the taste: you aren't brushing with chunks from your barbecue grill. It may be black, but the charcoal incorporated into the paste is closer to the soft consistency of baking soda. Many charcoal toothpastes also contain flavoring agents, just like any other whitening toothpaste. JADA's assessment of studies found that many of the toothpastes contained bentonite clay (an allegedly detoxifying ingredient) and that one had betel leaves (a plant chewed as a stimulant in many parts of Asia).
Since many of these toothpastes have not yet been given the American Dental Association's Seal of Acceptance, you should probably check with your dentist before using any toothpaste containing charcoal. They may want to review the list of ingredients with you or caution you to avoid using a scrubbing motion when brushing since charcoal paste may be more abrasive than your normal toothpaste.
If you're someone who is prone to tooth decay, be aware that not all of these toothpastes will contain fluoride. Since most dentists want their patients to use fluoride in some form, your dentist may recommend a fluoride rinse to help strengthen your enamel.
Is charcoal toothpaste a fad or here to stay? Research on its properties is still emerging, but many people are finding that charcoal toothpaste is worth a try.