Healthcare comms bosses call for greater scrutiny of product claims

Senior healthcare PR professionals are warning of the need to interrogate claims made about over-the-counter products, after a damning report dismissed claims that charcoal-based toothpastes can whiten teeth as a 'marketing gimmick'.

Dentists say there is no basis for claims that charcoal toothpaste whitens teeth (Pic credit: cerro_photography/Getty Images)
Dentists say there is no basis for claims that charcoal toothpaste whitens teeth (Pic credit: cerro_photography/Getty Images)

A review in the British Dental Journal, published last Friday, found that there is no scientific evidence to back up the claims made by the manufacturers of such toothpastes.

On the contrary, it warned that charcoal-based toothpastes could increase the risk of tooth decay and staining as many contain no fluoride.

Commenting on the research, the British Dental Association's scientific adviser, Professor Damien Walmsley, said: "Charcoal-based toothpastes offer no 'silver bullets' for anyone seeking a perfect smile, and come with real risks attached.

"So don't believe the hype. Anyone concerned about staining or discoloured teeth that can't be shifted by a change in diet, or improvements to their oral hygiene, should see their dentist."

Claims need to be backed by evidence

Kathryn Ager, head of health at Grayling, told PRWeek: "Question marks over the efficacy of charcoal toothpastes are just the latest example of product health claims that are seemingly supported by a limited evidence base."

She added: "It is perhaps unsurprising that in our fast-growing wellbeing market there is huge appetite for 'fast-fix' products that help people look and feel better."

Online influencers, many with "huge reach but limited health credentials", are fuelling the trend, Ager said, lending their names to products or brands in return for remuneration.

The research, which has been widely reported in the mainstream media, "is a timely reminder" for PR professionals of "the importance of testing and challenging the evidence base at the outset and asking the questions a journalist or the public will ask down the line".

It also highlights "the importance of only working with influencers who are genuinely qualified and have credibility in their field" and the need to have "credible third parties in your camp if and when challenges do arise".

Rising awareness among consumers

And Rebecca Fergusson, managing director of Red Consultancy’s Health division, commented: "Communications for these products needs to be built on an understanding that people who are attracted to a natural proposition are some of the most ingredient-savvy consumers out there."

She said: "The days are numbered when brands can rely solely on the positive associations people make when a product is positioned as 'natural'. As the number of people seeking out alternatives to everyday toiletries grows, so will the clamour for the scientific proof that they not only work, but more importantly do no harm."

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