…And Greenest Whites! Dental Care – Trends and Truth

Because now that you have your favourite red lipstick, you’ll want to flash the whitest possible smile (in a healthy, eco-conscious way, that is).

Dental Care:
As Green As It Gets

Activated charcoal powders, recyclable tooth brushes, “chemical-free” tootpastes – let’s look at a few “trending” toothcare topics to be a little wiser next time we’re looking at someone praising such a trend.

Even though many things still can be better (you’re about to learn, which), the options we’ve got these days are amazing – the best part of going green in 2017 is that there’s sooooooo much to choose from. Bamboo brushes or bio-degradable bioplastic? Darling, you choose.

And here’s what you should know:

1. “Is brushing teeth with
activated charcoal powder good for me?”

Activated charcoal – that has a nice sound, doesn’t it. Something to actively whiten and cleanse your teeth and absorb all those nasty toxins that lurk in that gross human mouth of yours. (Just kidding, love your face.)

Black tooth powder and paste manufacturers promise you whiter teeth and “less chemicals”, a promise one should be allowed to slap people in the face for, but I digress. Anyway, black powders and an occasional pitch black tooth paste look so novel and interesting and even slightly goth. Human brains love novelty. But human brains like facts too, so what are the pros and the cons exactly?

For starters, it’s nothing new. Ash/ coal is quite the traditional tooth cleansing product in several countries in Africa and Asia. Now that this is tackled, let’s look at the truly interesting things.

What is activated charcoal anyway? It’s so-called carbonaceous source material (can be anything from nutshells and coconut husk (yay!) to peat, „animal by-product“, coal or petroleum pitch (yikes!)) that undergoes a physical activation using hot gases or a chemical activation using strong acids, bases or salts to create small pores in it – the “activated” charcoal then can be used to absorb stuff or to react chemically.

Activated charcoal is used in a variety of industries – to decaf coffee beans, to purify water, to filter air, or to treat specific food poisonings. The key word here is “activated” – this substance is basically sitting there waiting to absorb stuff. While this can work rather well in a tooth powder (“nothing to absorb here, keep moving”), everyone wonders how the charcoal might stay “activated” in a toothpaste formula?

Also, if we keep in mind that the claim of “absorbing toxins in your mouth” still has to be scientifically validated for the activated charcoal powder, what does that mean for toothpaste, a formula that has enough stuff for the activated charcoal to be, you know, all active with?

German consumer magazine ÖKO-TEST apparently had the same issues. They tested several trendy activated charcoal products with a rather disappointing result for the whole line-up that included two back toothpaste products. The mag had also a word or two to say about the very important topic of charcoal safety, and I quote (from the original “Black is the new White” ÖKO-TEST article):

“It has been confirmed by both the Federal Institute of Risk Assessment and the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety that the manufacturing of „Charcoal Powder“ and „Carbon Black“ produces Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH).“

The trouble with it? Several PAH are proven carcinogens. Think coal tar. Think naphthalene. Think twice – before buying into marketing promises.

Now, because the potentially abrasive force that is charcoal powder isn’t welcome in the Toxic Wasteland corner of mine, the product tried and tested by BEAUTYCALYPSE was My Magic Mud Whitening Toothpaste Activated Charcoal Coconut Oil & Bentonite Clay. This brand was introduced during this year’s Vivaness fair, and comes with a clean formula that tastes very “normal” and has a smooth, again – “normal” texture. It doesn’t foam, but it dissolves into a manageable, pleasantly fragrant goo.The ingredients are:
Distilled Water, Diatomaceous Earth, Non-GMO Xylitol, Bentonite Clay, Coconut Oil, Activated Coconut Shell Charcoal, Peppermint Oil, Citric Acid, Grapefruit Seed Extract, Sweet Orange Oil, Potassium Sorbate, Rosemary Oil, Stevia, Tea Tree Oil, Vanilla Extract, Xanthan Gum.
As you will notice, the major players in this product are the mild abrasives Diatomaceous Earth and Bentonite Clay, the caries “killer” Xylitol, and the Coconut Oil doesn’t hurt either. Is it a “clean” toothpaste? It certainly looks very good – no glycerine, no “big 8” (read on), the charcoal is vegan-friendly and plant-based – but in regards to charcoal purity we’ve just discussed a question mark kind of does remain.
Also: how “activated” has the Activated Coconut Shell Charcoal remained in this formula? Mystery. Even My Magic Mud themselves explain the formula choice for their Powder with preserving the activated charcoal’s adsorbtion powers.
My Magic Mud is available via Niche Beauty and the My Magic Mud website.

On to the next interesting thing to know about charcoal and teeth. Now, the Magic Mud manufacturer didn’t disclose the RDA value of the Toothpaste, but they do disclose the RDA of their Tooth Powder which is rather high at 116. RDA values are indicators of how abrasive a toothpaste is. A value as high as 116 suggests that the product shouldn’t be used on a daily basis – in comparison, an all-conventional toothpaste with an RDA value of 114 is branded as “whitening” and suggested to be used for a period of two weeks only. However, thumbs up to Magic Mud for being transparent and for going the extra mile, for most other manufacturers of Activated Charcoal Powders don’t bother testing their products (RDA it’s a fairly expensive test that you can’t run at home).
Common sense suggests to not use Activated Charcoal Powders on a daily basis, would you agree?

So, to sum it all up:
– Whether or not activated charcoal powder toothpaste lives up to the promise of whiter teeth and toxin absorption, needs yet to be backed by serious studies.
– The manufacturers should be able to prove their claims of a) product purity and safety (PAH), as well as to provide an RDA value (after all, charcoal products often are pricey enough to care for the paying customer).
– Also, let’s keep in mind: no tooth powder and no toothpaste whatever the colour can dissolve or remove dental calculus, nor considerably whiten your teeth.

“Gosh! So who decides now if the charcoal trend is for me?”
Well, you do 😉

2. Bioplastic vs. Bamboo Brushes:
The Truth Is In The Bristles

This topic is so extensive, we’ll do it headline-style for the sake of brevity.


Now that this is out of the system and we won’t witness fights between the two parties, let’s face the dire truth – the handles are not the problem in eco-friendly toothbrushes, the bristles are. If you choose synthetic (because the fully compostable alternative is pretty nasty: hog’s bristles, most probably from China), you must know that only Nylon-4 bristles – a petroleum-based plastic – can biodegrade. Ironically, it’s the plant-based bio-plastic deployed by some manufacturers that won’t biodegrade. A “go figure” situation that makes you wish you didn’t hate your chemistry class when in school, eh?
And here’s why it’s so frustrating: because of the bristle dilemma, “only” 95% of the Hydrophil bamboo brushes and 94% of the Bio Brush Berlin upcycled and plasticiser-free plastic brushes is bio-degradable – the handle part.
It’s also worth mentioning that there is also still a lot of confusion and greenwashing out there. Sometimes companies have claimed to use Nylon-4 but lab tests have revealed that it’s not true.

And before we wrap up this section, here’s a bit of advice on how to make your brush last longer and stay as clean as possible:
First of all, cleanse it with soap, under hot running water after each use and let it dry upright. You want to store your toothbrush openly but – this is important – at the same time keep it out of reach for germ sources that are the toilet and the basin. It’s invisible to the naked eye, but every time you wash your hands or flush your toilet, microscopic water drops loaded with all kinds of nasty germs fly several meters landing on and messing with whatever they can reach – make-up sponges, toothbrushes… Eeeew.

So what’s a consumer to do when it comes to eco-friendly toothbrushes?
For now, we can be careful and stick to companies like Hydrophil or Bio Brush who are transparent and constantly working on creating a product that’s more and more sustainable while also effective and aesthetically pleasing.
BEAUTYCALYPSE will be watching the scene 😉

Both Hydrophil and Bio Brush are available here.

3. The Big 8 You May Want to Avoid

1 Fluoride
The big divide.
Some say we need it. Others say it’s a neurotoxin.
And “say” is an euphemism for “fight, kick and scream”. I’m afraid each of us has to figure out what matters to, well, each of us.

2 Triclosan
Do we even need to discuss this in the age of antibiotic-resistant super germs? Let this just sit here for the sake of completeness.

3 Titanium Dioxide
Added to toothpaste in order to whiten your teeth visually, it’s just a pretty innocent white pigment, eh? Not so fast.
A recent study linked the intake of food grade TD to increased risk of chronic intestinal inflammation and called it out as a carcinogen. Obviously, we don’t usually consume toothpaste – but it’s an info worth processing.

You don’t want the surfactants – aka Sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium dodecyl sulfate, sodium laurilsulfate – in your shower gel, you really don’t need them in your toothpaste. Foam, other than the abrasives, is only added for the “feeling of cleanliness” and is pretty much unnecessary for the cleansing efficiency. What’s worse, SLS has proven to cause irritation and inflammation on skin/ gums as well as to reduce the efficacy of Fluoride in caries reduction (so if you are partial to Fluoride, pick SLS-free formulas).

5 Abrasives
A toothpaste is basically as good as its scouring agents that rub away fresh plaque and stains. How well cleansed the nooks and crannies really are, is up to your technique. Technique really is everything in life.

Now, how abrasive does a toothpaste need to be? There are no rules. The so-called RDA test (Relative Dentin Abrasion test) can determine the exact level of abrasion. RDA values between 20–40 indicate very gentle levels of abrasion, up to 60 is medium abrasive, and anything over 100 is strong. How do you know what is right for you? Ask your dentist. And how do you know the RDA grade of a product? Ask the manufacturer. Lots of asking around for the sake of them healthy choppers!

6 Preservatives and stabilizing agents
Whether it’s parabens or alternative compounds such as Methylisothiazolinone (BTW the use of this preservative in leave-in products has just been banned in Europe as per February 2017), whether it’s stabilising agents such as Sodium Hydroxide – these ingredients are known irritants, period.

Maybe some doctors are right, and a healthy mouth flora can deal with them alright, but a) why should it have to and b) what if there are unnoticed inflammations already?

7 PEGs
Again, it feels so old to even mention them – PEGs are generally considered inert and safe ingredients. However, PEG aka Polyethylene glycol can be contaminated with highly toxic impurities, for example with 1,4-dioxane.

And even if it’s not contaminated, a PEG acts as „surfactant“, lowering the surface tension, disrupting the lipid coating and thus the barrier function of the skin. There’s really no point in doing this to your mouth twice a day.

8 Artificial sweeteners
People tend to get lost in the terms and confuse artificial sweeteners with sugar replacers. These are not the same.

Sugar replacers allowed in the EU are: Sorbitol (E 420), Isomalt (E 953), Xylitol (E 976), Erythritol (E 968), and a few more – these are organic compounds derived from plant-based sugar, so-called sugar alcohols. Other sugar replacers are fructose, inulin, high fructose corn syrup and so on. Artificial sweeteners, on the other hand, are just as the name suggests artificial – synthetic compounds with a sweet taste, often known for the detrimental effect on human health. Some artificial sweeteners (Sucralose, Acesulfam-K) even aren’t bio-degradable and pass sewage treatment systems unfiltered. Soooo, our oceans soon will be made of dead fish and microplastic swimming in liquid anti-baby hormones and artificial sweetener? o.Ò Don’t want. But let’s move on.

The general claim that sugar replacers or artificial sweeteners can help reduce or fight caries is not true. While Xylitol has been proven to help keep caries at bay, other sweeteners like Sorbitol can cause caries. So why are sweeteners in there, anyway? Mostly to cover up the less pleasant taste of the synthetic ingredients.
But also, the pH value inside the mouth is slightly alkaline, so this is what sweeteners are in there for as well. (That’s also why holistic dentists suggest flushing your mouth with a sea salt solution – it does just that but it also neutralises the palate, making us crave food less than a sweet aftertaste does.) 

An interesting “free-from” product tested and used in la casa BEAUTYCALYPSE are Denttabs Fluoride-free Stevia-Mint.
Since this toothpaste alternative comes in the form of tabs (it takes a while to get used to chewing the dry af buggers, but it’s not a big deal once you have managed), it doesn’t contain water, so it’s free from preservative. The RDA is below 30, which is gentle. It comes in a plastic packaging but nevertheless causes less waste than toothpaste. In addition, Denttabs are available in Unverpackt (=zero waste) stores and also offer refills on the Denttabs website.
Ingredients: Microcrystalline Cellulose, Sodium Bicarbonate, Silica, Sodium Lauroyl Glutamate, Magnesium Stearate, Aroma, Menthol, Xanthan-Gum, Stevioside, Citric Acid, Eugenol
Denttabs are known in the “green” community, but while some love them (many of Denttabs fans are frequent followers – for all the obvious reasons), others can’t really warm to the texture. It’s an acquired taste, you guys, and worth it for two reasons: 1) the cleaned-up formula and 2) the pleasant sensation of perfectly “polished” teeth.
For Fluoride fans: there is a Fluoride-packed version, too.

Denttabs are widely available, and I purchase them via ecco verde.

For more reviews of clean and clean-ish dental products, look here.
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Geeking out about all things truly green, healthy and ethical over at BEAUTYCALYPSE.com (Avatar illustration by A. Goncharenko)