When it comes to beauty, trends come and go. What’s on trend today may be long forgotten by tomorrow (hello, oil pulling!). But a recent trend in cosmetic oral health care is still going strong, and it could be causing a lot more harm than good. It’s the charcoal toothpaste trend, with the black mineral more commonly associated with summer grilling taking center stage in a number of new pastes and all-natural oral health products. But how safe is charcoal toothpaste, and why are dentists warning people to definitely not try the “do-it-yourself” version at home?
Dr. Allison Lesko is a dentist in Fort Collins, Colorado. She says the charcoal toothpaste trend is bad news for teeth.
“Charcoal toothpaste can scratch the tooth enamel, which is permanent damage to the teeth,” Lesko says.
According to Lesko, charcoal toothpaste grew in popularity when many users discovered their teeth appeared whiter after using the paste.
“Part of it is, I think there is a placebo effect of seeing your teeth black and then rinsing away the paste, seeing how white they look in comparison,” she says. “But charcoal toothpaste, to its credit,.does remove some surface staining.”
That being said, Lesko says that same stain-lifting effect is one you can get from any toothpaste and, yes, even that old standby, oil pulling.
“Almost anything can remove surface stains if you do it long enough,” she says.
So, what’s the problem with using charcoal toothpaste if it is doing what it claims? Not so fast, says Lesko.
“There is a difference between whitening and removing surface stains. The charcoal paste isn’t whitening the teeth, it’s cleaning them like any other, safer toothpaste would do,” she says.
The dangers of store-bought charcoal toothpaste aside, Lesko says there is an even scarier trend making its way around the country: homemade charcoal toothpaste.
“Usually homemade gets the reputation of being somehow safer, but people are using charcoal briquettes like you would use for your grill and making toothpaste with that,” she says.”It’s extremely dangerous.”
Why? For starters, charcoal briquettes contain flammable additives and chemicals that are not meant to be consumed.
“You are essentially brushing your teeth with lighter fluid,” says Lesko.
So, what can you do if you want a natural way to fight cavities and get a whiter smile? Lesko recommends looking for a natural toothpaste with the American Dental Association seal of approval, or to watch what you eat so that food-based staining is less prevalent.
“Avoid smoking and heavy consumption of dark soda, red wine and coffee, and always brush twice a day for at least two minutes at a time,” Lesko says. “That will do more to keep your teeth stain free than brushing with an abrasive or dangerous ingredient like charcoal.”