Masks, scrubs, pills, pizza (?), and the ever popular toothpaste made with charcoal have been trending for a while now as a result of charcoal’s promise to detoxify chemicals from our body — and for the cool way that the products look on social media. Before you use any of these trendy toothpastes to clean the Halloween candy from your teeth, take into account what our local experts have to say about whether brushing with charcoal toothpaste is actually safe for your teeth.
The basis of charcoal toothpaste’s success is its touted benefits in fighting and removing surface stains, brightening the whiteness of your smile, and supposedly absorbing toxins. However, Dr. Ben Dancygier, from Valley Pediatric Dentistry in Jefferson Valley, points out that these benefits might not be all they’re cracked up to be.
“According to an article published in the Journal of the American Dental Association, there is insufficient clinical evidence to back up safety and efficacy claims of charcoal toothpaste,” says Dancygier, a top dentist in our 2019 list of Top Dentists.
First and foremost, he cautions, activated charcoal toothpastes “are not regulated by the ADA. Therefore, we don’t know fluoride content, if any.” Fluoride is a primary cavity-fighting component of most commercial toothpastes, and Dancygier says he would not suggest using any paste that did not contain it.
Moreover, charcoal’s ability to detoxify “could interfere with oral medications such as birth control and other prescription medications, making them less effective,” he says.
Dr. Scott Schwartz, DDS, a cosmetic dentist based in Croton-on-Hudson, adds that charcoal’s whitening ability is a chief concern and potential reason to avoid its use. “[Charcoal toothpaste is] very abrasive and that is the main reason why it’s causing that immediate whitening effect,” he says. “It’s abrasively removing any kinds of stains, but the downside to it is that it is causing erosion to the enamel.” Wearing away enamel, Schwartz says, can lead to such long-term problems as sensitivity, gum recession, and an eventual increase in cavities. “I think it causes more damage than it does help.”
Dancygier agrees, adding that the abrasiveness of charcoal can also “damage enamel, restorations, and porcelain crowns. While it may remove surfaces, the benefits of charcoal do not outweigh the cons.”
Dr. Robert Schulman, DMD, another 2019 Top Dentist who specializes in prosthodontics (the repair and replacement of teeth) concurs, though he doesn’t completely swear off activated charcoal usage. “Charcoal toothpaste is a very controversial topic because there is no scientific long-term data that it whitens teeth. It can be aggressive on the enamel, so I wouldn’t recommend it as a primary toothpaste — only use it two-to-three times a week.”
One common charcoal toothpaste you might have seen in your local Whole Foods or other grocery chain is hello, a New Jersey-based brand that has grown to become the number one selling charcoal toothpaste*. Craig Dubitsky, the founder of hello, told WM, “Our charcoal toothpastes are thoughtfully formulated to be effective and safe for everyday use, and they are available in both fluoride and fluoride-free versions,” he says, adding that the charcoal in hello’s charcoal line is derived from sustainable bamboo.
Dubitsky quotes the American Dental Association (ADA) Relative Dentin Abrasivity scale to assuage any fears surrounding his brand’s toothpaste. “The safe range goes from 0 to 250: anything under 250 is considered safe according to ADA standards, and anything above 250 is considered to be a potential hazard to your enamel,” he says.
“There are no degrees of safety between 0 and 250 on the RDA scale, which means that a paste ranked at 249 is as equally as safe as a paste with an RDA ranking at 1. We make a point of ensuring all of our pastes (including charcoal) fall below the maximum abrasiveness threshold recommended by the ADA,” explains Dubitsky.
While that may be sufficient to satisfy some users looking to get a good clean and bright smile, some local dental experts aren’t completely sold.
“We have many other things out there that we can do for whitening that are not damaging to the tooth structure — in our office we do Zoom Whitening,” explains Schwartz, “and we have many different protective measures in the mouth while we are doing the whitening to protect your gums, to decrease sensitivity, and [ensure] it’s not actually damaging to the tooth structure.”
“The best way to remove deep staining is with an in-office professional whitening,” Dancygier says. “Always talk to your dentist about the best method of whitening and products.”
*IRI MULO Food, Drug, Mass (L52 weeks, 10.6.19)