Is Charcoal Toothpaste Safe for Enamel?

Is Charcoal Toothpaste Safe for Enamel?

If you were to Google “charcoal toothpaste,” you would get more than 10,500,000 results in under a minute. Toothpaste made with activated charcoal has really made waves this year, but this leaves us all with a very important question: is charcoal safe for enamel?

While the world has welcomed more and more black teeth and sinks this year, charcoal has also  brought some criticism—and for good reason. We’ll be the first to admit that we’ve seen some pretty suspicious claims associated with charcoal toothpaste, and we’ve certainly spent a lot of time talking to dentists to ensure that our activated charcoal toothpaste is safe for enamel. And it is. There’s one main way we stand apart from other activated charcoal toothpaste brands. Read on to find out what it is.  

Why Don’t Dentists Recommend Activated Charcoal Toothpaste? 

The Abrasion Issue

One of the biggest concerns dentists have about activated charcoal has to do with its abrasiveness. The abrasion is what works to remove surface stains from coffee, wine—and most of the foods and drinks we love. However, as the adage “too much of a good thing” applies to both coffee and wine, it also applies to abrasion. An extremely abrasive toothpaste can actually wear down some of the enamel and make the surface of our teeth a little rougher and more sensitive. 

What to Think About While Brushing

Just because some dentists aren’t yet on the activated charcoal bandwagon, it doesn’t mean that we should ditch our black oral care products in favor of plain ol’ white or striped toothpaste. It’s important to realize that activated charcoal has exploded onto the scene—in both ways that respect its natural healing power and by cultural icons who are just trying to cash in on its current popularity (is there a famous person who hasn’t developed an activated charcoal toothpaste yet?). So, as consumers we have to take each toothpaste with a grain of salt, as not all activated charcoal toothpastes are created equally. 

What are the Different Types of Activated Charcoal?

Charcoal for Barbecuing

If the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of charcoal toothpaste is those charcoal briquettes that you use for grilling, you’re not the only one. While most people think that this is what makes it into their morning brushing routine, it’s not. Charcoal used for this purpose is derived from wood and heated until it’s transformed into 100% carbon. 

 

Charcoal for Brushing

Activated charcoal is made in a similar way, but usually uses materials like coconut shells or bamboo, which are heated to very high temperatures. When exposed to heat, the elements usually bound to the carbon atoms are released, meaning that there are sites available for new molecules and elements to bind to.  What this means is that the open sites are great for binding toxins and bacteria, which is why activated charcoal is so great for many medical issues—and why activated charcoal is one of the World Health Organizaton’s Essential Medicines list. But even with activated charcoal, there are still many different options. There are tooth powders that contain only activated charcoal, and there are a range of different types of toothpastes that use this ingredient, and normally different types of it.   

Coconut shell activated charcoal (what we use!): excellent purity, large proportion of micropores, more abrasion resistant than other types, a natural, environmentally-friendly product that has a small carbon footprint, used for organic impurity removal 

Coal based activated charcoal: hard material with high surface area, used for industrial air purification 

Wood based activated charcoal: low density, high surface area with micropores, used to filter water, found in some types of charcoal toothpaste

 

So Is Charcoal Safe for Enamel? What About Terra & Co.?

Third Party Tested for Abrasion

When it comes to the best activated charcoal toothpaste, it’s clear that abrasion is something to consider—and this is something that varies significantly between different types of activated charcoal toothpaste. This means that we should all get out our white lab coats, play dentist, and get a little familiar with some new acronyms. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends using a toothpaste with a relative dentin abrasivity (RDA) level of 250 or less. According to them [1]: “Clinical evidence supports that lifetime use of proper brushing technique with a toothbrush and toothpaste at an RDA of 250 or less produces limited wear to dentin and virtually no wear to enamel.”


So, coming from the ADA themselves, toothpaste that has an RDA less than 250 is safe for enamel. Our Brilliant Black Organic Charcoal Toothpaste has an RDA of 103.37. This is what sets us apart from other charcoal toothpaste brands. Some are much higher (or don’t even know theirs), while some non-charcoal whitening toothpastes have an RDA that’s double what ours is. So, not only is Brilliant Black Toothpaste safe for everyday use, but it’s also an effective whitening toothpaste. 

Natural Whitening vs. Chemical Whitening

Let’s go back to the dentists who claim that charcoal toothpaste isn’t an effective whitener. Here’s what one had to say about its whitening power in an interview with Byrdie [2]: “Activated charcoal has the potential to bind to some of the stains on the tooth surface and remove it, but it only works on certain stains and certainly does not lighten the actual color of the tooth, like other chemical agents such as peroxide.”


Maybe it’s just us but we’re not too excited about the idea of putting “chemical agents” in our mouths twice a day. Speaking of these chemical agents, there are two main ones that are used for teeth whitening: hydrogen peroxide and blue covarine [3]. Hydrogen peroxide has been associated with free radicals that compromise the tooth structure and lead to tooth sensitivity. Haven’t heard of blue covarine before? It’s a pigment that turns your teeth blue to give off the appearance of looking white. And these are supposedly better options than natural activated charcoal?


When comparing activated charcoal to some of these other “chemical agents,” one study in the Journal of Applied Oral Science found that activated charcoal was nearly as effective as blue covarine and hydrogen peroxide when it came to its whitening power [4]. If we have an option to whiten naturally without using bleach or a blue pigment commonly found in nail polish, we think we’ll go with that option still. So, is charcoal safe for enamel? We’ve got the third-party testing to ensure that the activated charcoal in our Brilliant Black Toothpaste is safe for enamel. Even better, it’s safe for the planet too. 


Sources:

[1]: https://www.ada.org/en/member-center/oral-health-topics/toothpastes

[2] https://www.byrdie.com/charcoal-toothpaste-for-whitening-teeth

[3]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4716698/

[4]: https://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S1678-77572019000100429

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