Charcoal Toothpaste: Science Versus Fads

Full disclosure before we get into the charcoal-grilled meat of this article: when it comes to “science versus fads”, we are firmly on the side of science. Listen, anecdotal evidence is absolutely fine, and research is better than fine – it’s important, essential to progress. We’ll tell you right now, though: this article is not going to recommend you brush with activated charcoal. There’s just not enough sound scientific evidence supporting its use, and when there’s a lack of scientific evidence, we tend to look at risks.

The main arguments for the use of activated charcoal is that it’s incredibly porous and incredibly abrasive. The purported advantage of its porosity is that it could (mind those italics) absorb plaque, bacteria, and other harmful substances in your mouth. Abrasives are already a key component of toothpaste, so the argument that you need something abrasive to brush your teeth with is sound. 

Just because something is abrasive, however, doesn’t mean it’s good for your teeth. Sandpaper is abrasive, and we certainly wouldn’t recommend brushing your teeth with that. The same thing goes for porosity. Marshmallows are super porous, but you don’t want to brush your teeth with them. The examples being given here are patently absurd, but that’s kind of the point – just because something has a desirable quality or two, doesn’t make it a suitable replacement for stuff that’s been empirically tested hundreds of times.

Let’s take a look at another component of this fad – a logical fallacy that, once understood, will serve you well in life. There are those who argue that since activated charcoal is a natural remedy that has been used for decades to cure poisonings (its non-activated cousin has been used since ancient times), and that the ingredients are simple – it’s nothing but charcoal, after all, then, given all of this information, it must be good for you. This is known as the naturalistic fallacy – the notion that if something is natural or traditional, it must be good for you.

In truth, something that’s been used traditionally with few ingredients does have advantages. It’s easier to study the underlying mechanisms of a medicine that only has one ingredient, and if something has been used for generations, it may point to efficacy or safety. In the case of activated charcoal, that’s true of poisoning, but not true of toothpaste. Charcoal may be much more abrasive than toothpaste, and you could risk seriously damaging your teeth through overuse.

What we’ll advise is quite straightforward: good old-fashioned toothpaste. The kind that nine out of ten dentists recommend. We’ll also advise you to take advantage of our dental hygiene services in Winnipeg. You might also find some useful information on our blog about fluoride myths. At the end of the day, your best bet is to follow dentist recommendations that are built upon thousands of studies and lots of hard data. We promise that we can help you get the smile you want, all without using charcoal.