What’s the deal with black toothpaste?

You might be taken aback when you see an inky black substance snaking out of the tube on to your brush, but remember that this is the current dental rage. It’s got charcoal that’s supposed to help absorb stains and I suppose kill bacteria that can cause bad breath.

Black toothpasteSo when you finish brushing with this stuff your breath smells like a freshly opened bag of briquettes.

Black toothpaste hasn’t been studied much, but a group of British researchers last year concluded it was nothing more than “a marketing gimmick.” It can actually “increase the risk of tooth decay and staining,” the BBC said in a review of the study that came out in the British Dental Journal.

“When used too often in people with fillings, it can get into them and become difficult to get out,” Dr. Greenwall-Cohen co-author, told the BBC in May of last year.

“Charcoal particles can also get caught up in the gums and irritate them.”

Charcoal powder used in black toothpaste is more abrasive than traditional toothpaste and can potentially harm the enamel, he said.

Another problem is that many black toothpastes don’t contain fluoride, a longtime additive that fights tooth decay.

Dental experts say toothpaste with fluoride is better for your teeth, but there are side effects. For example, there have been concerns over the last 60-70 years that using a fluoridated product can turn you into a communist, so for some people who are more susceptible to political persuasion, a no-fluoride paste may be a good option.

(Fluoride was first added to toothpaste in 1914, and the Russian Revolution began in 1917. Need we say more.)

Toothpaste has an interesting history that goes back to the ancient Egyptians, who cleaned their teeth 7,000 years ago with a combination of crushed rock salt, mint, flowers and pepper.

Other societies have used ground ox hooves, brick dust, ground up eggshells and yes, even charcoal.

During the 18th century, people brushed their teeth with burnt breadcrumbs, and soap was added to more abrasive ingredients by a dentist in 1824. The first modern toothpaste came from Colgate in 1873. It was sold in glass jars.

Companies that produce toothpaste these days are looking for any marketing advantage they can find. I mean, can you blame them? It’s such a crowded field, you have to be creative to get your product some attention. Whitening is a major concern, and good gum health, so that’s a huge angle when it comes to advertising.

But I would argue that traditional toothpaste is fine for that and besides, some people have their teeth whitened to such a degree that it looks unnatural.

A little yellowing is proof that you didn’t get your choppers at the dollar store. Relax and enjoy that tea, coffee and blueberry pie!

  • (Image credit: John Nelander)