My take on activated charcoal.

A few days ago a patient asked me for my professional opinion on using activated charcoal as a toothpaste and I had to give the honest answer, “I don’t know enough about it yet.”  We talked about what we’ve read and heard, he gave me his thoughts since he’s been using it as a paste AND detox drink…and I promised to try it for myself.  Well guess what?  Later that day, he dropped off a jar so I could give it a whirl.  (I have the best patients!) Here are my thoughts:

What I usually see on the internet:

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“It works to whiten teeth by absorbing plaque and microscopic tidbits that stain teeth”

“Remove tartar and plaque buildup when used as toothpaste”

The flyer that came with my jar of charcoal powder did not give any specific instruction for mixing and using it as a toothpaste.  It simply said, “Have your teeth become stained from coffee, tea, wine, or berries?  Activated charcoal helps whiten your teeth while promoting good oral health by changing the pH balance in the mouth, helping prevent cavities, bad breath and gum disease!

So, I did what anyone else would do and turned to the internet again.  Five sites recommended the same thing:  Wet your toothbrush, put a small bit of powder into a dish, dip your toothbrush and brush like normal with the slurry as a paste.  Easy enough! Since I heard this was also a great way to get rid of toxins on the skin, I decided to go all out and use the mix as a face mask.

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Isn’t That a Sight?!

Now let me say that I am of those people who is curious about the world around me but I am a skeptic by nature when it comes to fads and new products. If I am going to add something to my routine or replace something I’m already doing, It has to have real value. It has got be cost-effective and relatively easy.

My Charcoal Toothpaste Experience

PROS:

  • Not abrasive like I assumed
  • No chemicals
  • No flavoring agents
  • Affordable to purchase
  • No preservatives

CONS:

  • Messy
  • Stained my toothbrush
  • Boring (no flavor)
  • It CAN’T remove tartar!!!  I saw one tiny piece on a lower tooth.  Had to scale it off as usual.
  • Had to scrape my tongue more than usual as it turned black too
  • Tiny bits of charcoal the next morning AFTER brushing and flossing again
  • Black snot the next morning

 

Where it comes from

Activated charcoal starts with a natural product like coconut, bamboo or wood.  The process of turning it into the charcoal powder involves burning.  Activated charcoal is regular charcoal that has been “activated” with oxidizing gases, such as steam or air, at high temperatures. In medicine traditionally, activated charcoal is used to treat people in a hospital setting for toxic events like medication overdoses and chemical ingestion.

Dental Hygienist Knee Jerk Response

I hate to be a naysayer and discourage people from using products that they believe in but let me give you a little bit of insight.  When you brush and floss really well, you don’t need toothpaste at all to get rid of soft plaque.  Although I believe most brands of toothpaste are tested to be safe and effective, if you want to stay away from preservatives, chemicals and “man-made ingredients”, you could actually do a really great job of cleaning your mouth with these simple tools:

  • Toothbrush that you replace every three months
  • Floss or other interdental gadgets
  • Tongue Scraper
  • Water

Basically the key to keeping a healthy mouth is spending time everyday removing the sticky plaque colonies that could break down your hard and soft tissues.  Germs are normal.  Some are good and some are bad.  It’s all about finding balance in your system.  The other bit of advice I have is that the healthy habits at home are limited in effectiveness.  Tartar will build up in places that you can’t physically get to so that’s where your friendly hygienist comes into the picture.  Everyone benefits from seeing a hygienist on a schedule that makes sense for their particular medical and dental situation.  Here are some of my concerns that other dental professionals share and my thoughts:

Them – I polled quite a few dental hygienists in a forum from all over the world and the general consensus is a concern for the abrasive qualities of the charcoal. Abrasives can cause scratches and sensitivity. They also worry that toothpastes have minerals that provide  protection against the damages from our food and germs.

Me – I found it to feel gentle and not very abrasive. I completely agree 100% that nearly everyone benefits from fluoride, potassium nitrate, xylitol and calcium.  Even when you eat fresh organic foods, the natural sugars, usual wear and tear, and acids from bacteria cause cumulative damage to our teeth. 

Them – “…while some people swear by the blackened toothpaste, the American Dental Association (ADA) warns against it.” –Global News

Me – I believe in my professional association and their advice.

Them – “If you have crowns, caps or porcelain veneers, it’s possible that activated charcoal will stain them. In addition, if your teeth become sensitive, quit using it.”

Me – I agree.  My toothbrush will be thrown out soon as it got stained.  The sink and shower will be fine.  Baking powder and other natural toothpastes work well enough for stain removal but so does not having any plaque on your teeth 🙂

 

SHOULD YOU USE IT?

Although I have strong concerns about ingesting this (later in this post) I still don’t think this is bad or good as a toothpaste per se.   Water has the same neutral pH and getting rid of plaque will reduce the acid level in your mouth just as well.  It does not “pull toxins from your gums” like some claim.  It just can’t.  That being said, if you are totally against store-bought toothpaste with natural ingredients, to each his own.  If you don’t mind the mess and possibility of the charcoal staying in your tissue for a long time, go for it…. but still, there are so many options for plant-based toothpastes that are a good mineral therapy.

 

My Concerns About Ingesting it as Part of a Detox

Because it has the ability to prevent the absorption of other nutrients and medications, I can’t imagine this is a good thing to do very often.  The vitamins and medications we are advised to take have a purpose so eliminating them from your gut needs to be done under the supervision of a doctor!  When you make this powder available at Wal-Mart and Amazon, consumers run the risk of hearing all the great benefits and using it incorrectly or with possible adverse outcomes.  I also believe our bodies are incredibly proficient at eliminating toxins so long as we provide it with healthy foods and lots of water.  

Here’s what “They” say and my two cents:

Them The Truth About Cancer “During the cleanse, eat only organic fruits and vegetables, grass-fed meat, and wild fish.”

Me -Wouldn’t switching your diet in essence lead to better health anyway?  Why only eat fresh organic foods during a cleanse?!?!  We know for a fact that reducing sugar and fat intake decreases the harmful bacteria from our digestive tract!!

Them – From Charcoal.com themselves, “We cannot say categorically that charcoal does not depreciate the level of nutritive absorption in any way.”

Me – So you have no way to prove the benefits outweigh the possible risks? The lack of science on this topic is disturbing.

Them – Emergency toxicology expert Dr. Katherine Boyle warns against it because in this article because adverse effects that can be associated with its use.

“One of the things that we worry about is that it can cause pretty severe lung damage if it accidentally gets in to your lungs,” she says. “Actually, it can cause such a bad lung injury that it can be fatal.”

Me – I had black snot the day AFTER I used this as a mask.  Which means I possibly aspirated a tiny amount.  NOT good! Not good at all.

Them In this article, “Whenever you take activated charcoal, it’s imperative to drink 12-16 glasses of water per day. Activated charcoal can cause dehydration if adequate amounts of water aren’t consumed in tandem. In addition, this helps to flush out the toxins quickly and prevents constipation experienced by some individuals.”

Me – I’m not sure many people know to do this.

ThemThis article covers some very interesting news about the possibility that this activated charcoal could contain cancer causing ingredients like PAH’s and HCA’s- “There is limited evidence that desorption of a toxin from activated charcoal may occur. Therefore, there is a potential for toxin readsorption and enhanced toxicity.”

Me – I’m NOT taking any chances!  I’ve been taught to stay away from the burnt ends of meat and burnt marshmallows because of the unstable and reactive compounds.

Them –  This article explains, “The porous surface of activated charcoal has a negative electric charge that attracts positively charged toxins and poisons. It binds them, and escorts them out of your body through the elimination process of your intestines.”

Me – I do agree that bacteria tend to have a positive charge and can be damaged by substances with a negative charge.  They make toothbrushes with this technology.  So, for this reasoning I could see how activated charcoal could be beneficial but I am going to make an effort to find out more specific details about whether ONLY harmful bacteria and toxins have a positive charge.  (I’ll post an update when I get this info on microbiology)

 

In summary, I believe how you brush and floss means more than what toothpaste you choose to put on your toothbrush. I know that seeing a hygienist like myself will ensure the tartar you can’t remove will be eliminated and taking care of dental problems early on will mean more than any product you choose to buy.   I also believe that treating your body well by eating healthy foods (organic if you can) and minimizing your sugar and fat intake also takes care of most of the bad bacteria that thrive in your gut and in your mouth.  As a medical professional (yes, I studied microbiology, human anatomy, chemistry and public health etc. for this license),  I honestly can’t recommend a product that doesn’t have some scientific studies to back up it’s claims (not motivated by the people that sell it).

logoI thoroughly enjoyed this article by Superfoodly as it seemed to be the most neutral and comprehensive on the topic  (I searched, chatted with colleagues, and asked my mentors for at least four hours!) and it covers activated charcoal for externally and internally with good solid scientific resources.

What do I use?   I brush my teeth with an electric toothbrush and water in the shower every night.  I floss my teeth every night in the shower with a floss holder made by Listerine.  Then I apply Clinpro 5000 before I go to bed and I don’t rinse because I want the minerals to stay on my teeth.  I use a manual toothbrush with plain Crest every morning. My kids and I use Plaque HD together once a week to see how well we brush!

 

 

Do you use activated charcoal?  What are your thoughts?

 

 

 

 

 

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