Amongst the trends for ‘alternative’ toothpastes, charcoal seems to be a top choice, but why?
Back in the day, as some like to describe the past, if you went to the shop to buy a toothpaste, you were usually faced with a choice of just a handful of different brands. These were all pretty similar in quality and preference largely depended on whether or not you liked the taste of a particular toothpaste.
Anyone who walks down the dental care isle of a supermarket now though, will know that this limited choice is very definitely a thing of the past.
There are now toothpastes for almost every occasion. Some of these offer very positive benefits, whereas others, such as teeth whitening toothpastes, are often quite restrictive in the benefits that they offer (hint: check the small print). One of the more unusual ones that seems to be fairly popular though, is charcoal toothpaste.
It should be noted that the charcoal used in these toothpastes is ‘activated’ charcoal and not just any old charcoal that you might find on a barbeque, for example. This means that it has been heated to a very high temperature. This changes its structure and produces a very fine powder which is non toxic, and is both tasteless and doesn’t give off any odours. Strangely enough, charcoal has been used for cleaning the teeth for a long time. The Romans used to use the bark of a tree, combined with charcoal to clean their teeth. We are, however, pretty sure that they wouldn’t have done so if minty toothpastes had been around at the time!
What is it used for?
Those that claim charcoal toothpaste to be beneficial argue that it is an excellent and natural way to whiten the teeth and also freshens the breath. The latter argument is based on the evidence that charcoal can absorb toxins and other substances. In fact, it is widely used for treating some stomach complaints and can be used to treat certain types of drug overdoses. The logic therefore, is that it will also cleanse any toxins etc from the patient’s gums. To date though, there has been little research into whether this is actually true for problems such as gum disease, so the jury is currently out.
The problem with charcoal
You might think that, because charcoal is a naturally occuring substance, it can do no harm to your teeth. ‘Natural’ can be good, but you should also remember that there are many natural things which are deadly, such as certain mushrooms and toadstools, so please don’t take the ‘natural is good’ argument at face value. Always do your research. Whilst, as we said earlier, charcoal is non toxic, that doesn’t mean that it can’t harm your teeth. In fact, the reason why claims are made for its tooth whitening qualities is that charcoal is an abrasive. All toothpastes contain this to some degree as it helps to remove plaque and staining from the teeth. This is usually in quantities significantly less than is the case with charcoal toothpastes though, and these can, potentially, cause quite a bit of damage.
The fact is that, if you brush your teeth with an abrasive toothpaste, it may remove more staining, but it can also wear away the enamel on your teeth much faster. If you do this over a period time, you may find that your teeth become increasingly sensitive and even quite painful, particularly if you brush over zealously. This can become a long term problem which may require restoration using techniques such as porcelain veneers which are used to replace the damaged enamel.
If you don’t have veneers fitted when the enamel erodes, not only will sensitivity become an issue, but also the thinner enamel will start to reveal the darker dentin layer beneath. This in turn makes the teeth look more discoloured, completely defeating the purpose of using a ‘whitening’ toothpaste in the first place.
It is worth remembering too, that where charcoal toothpastes are sold as ‘natural’, they may well not include fluoride in their ingredients. The abrasive qualities of this product combined with a lack of fluoride to strengthen the enamel means that you could be asking for trouble if you use it.
Practical teeth whitening
You may say that it’s all well and good but you really want to do something about your stained teeth. Fortunately there are safer, and more effective, ways of achieving this. Our local dental practice offers teeth whitening along with other cosmetic dental treatments which are safe and effective ways to make real improvements to the colour of your teeth. At The Dental Centre Bedford, we use a custom home whitening method which offers the convenience of treatment in the comfort of your own home. The level of whiteness can be adjusted to suit your preferences and we will discuss this with you during your initial consultation.
There are many products now on the market, some of which work better than others and some which are potentially harmful to your teeth. It is important to remember that manufacturers of these products are all seeking to make a profit and are not there just to help you to have healthy teeth (though there are regulations in place which should help prevent serious harm).
If you are unhappy about anything to do with your teeth or gums, your starting point should always be your own dentist. We are always happy to help you if you have a problem, and you can make an appointment at our Bedford dental practice by calling us on 01234 819868.