DENTIST Dr Nigel Carter asks whether natural ingredients such as charcoal and coconut oil can really protect against decay.
The vast amount of different toothpastes can be confusing. Choosing a toothpaste used to be a simple task. But with more than 50 different products to be found on our supermarket or pharmacy shelves, it’s no wonder that consumers are confused about what is best for their teeth.
Alongside the standard fluoride pastes there are products that claim to whiten, others for sensitive teeth, ones that tackle tartar, bubblegum-flavoured brands aimed at children and, most recently, those that use alternative ingredients such as coconut, sea salt and charcoal.
Charcoal toothpaste is one of the latest natural tooth-care products, lauded for its potential tooth-whitening properties, and many celebrities are queueing up to endorse it.
Critics argue that fluoride causes mottled teeth, brittle bone disease and affects the nervous system.
But there is no scientific basis for such claims, despite more than 50 years of research.
Fluoride is a natural mineral contained in the food we eat and the water we drink. However nine out of 10 of us don’t get enough from tap water to protect against decay, so fluoride toothpastes are the best way to protect our teeth from it.
They work by helping teeth remineralise and making enamel stronger.
Use a fluoride toothpaste that contains 1,500 parts per million (ppm) fluoride for adults (this should be indicated on the packaging).
For children under three a lower level of fluoride, at 1,000ppm, should be used.
The claim: The use of coconut oil for “oil pulling” – swishing oil in the mouth for up to half an hour – comes from ancient Indian ayurvedic medicine with claims to be hugely beneficial not only for the health of the teeth and gums but also to help whiten teeth.
Coconut oil is said to have antibacterial qualities which help to prevent the build-up of plaque, reducing the chances of tooth decay and gum disease.
The practice has become increasingly popular as a natural mouthwash.
Reality: There is no scientific proof that coconut oil is beneficial to your oral health. At best, it is ineffective and a waste of time. Although oil pulling is unlikely to cause us any harm, if ingested it can lead to diarrhoea or an upset stomach.
There is also no proof that coconut oil is an effective tooth whitener. Anecdotal evidence shows the residue left behind may make teeth appear whiter as it makes them “shinier” but this soon disappears.
The claim: Products which contain activated charcoal as a whitening agent claim to help polish teeth while the charcoal removes impurities which may have caused teeth to yellow over time.
Users are promised much whiter teeth and many of these products are endorsed by celebrities for these qualities.
Reality: Research has shown there is inadequate clinical and laboratory data to prove the safety and efficacy claims of charcoal and charcoal-based oral health products.
The claims made by many of these products in terms of tooth whitening are unverified and consumers are warned to be aware of what is in them as in the long run they could be doing more harm than good.
Many of these products are able to remove only superficial surface stains as they are very abrasive. Because of this, they are actually damaging the enamel on the teeth. Once this happens the damage could be irreversible.
Most importantly, many charcoal toothpastes on the market do not contain enough fluoride to protect us from tooth decay, even when used for two minutes twice a day.
Sea salt Toothpaste:
The claim: A relative newcomer to the oral health marketplace and tipped to be one of the next trendy products, sea salt toothpaste claims to whiten your teeth as it is made up of sodium chloride.
You may have heard of brushing your teeth with baking soda to make them whiter and brushing with salt is supposed to work in a similar way. The sodium chloride is supposed to help remove stains due to it being abrasive. It is also claimed that salt stimulates the production of saliva.
Saliva contains minerals which help keep the mouth naturally healthy and fight against plaque-causing bacteria.
Reality: Much like brushing your teeth with activated charcoal toothpaste, you might run the risk that using such an abrasive product will damage your tooth enamel.
Also it may not contain the correct ingredients to effectively protect your teeth from decay.
Remember that this is a very new product area. There is no research to show if it is effective, so be wary.
Many of these toothpastes contain below the recommended 1,500ppm level of fluoride, so make sure that you always read the label.