Activated Charcoal for Teeth Whitening?
Activated charcoal is pretty trendy these days. It’s hard to be on social media and not see someone promoting or using it for something cosmetic. You can smear it on your face, wash your hair with it, and even brush your teeth with this very black stuff.
I was a bit shocked when I first saw activated charcoal being used for teeth whitening. My first reaction was there was no way this could be safe! There are some things that practically scream, Don’t put me in your mouth. Charcoal is one of them. Although similar material, I’m not talking about the charcoal that’s used on your barbeque.
Activated charcoal is an age-old material with various medicinal uses. However, it gained recognition at the end of the 20th century and has grown in popularity since then for teeth whitening.
Activated charcoal is a finely milled black powder made from coconut shells, bone char, olive pits, coal, sawdust, or other materials. As I said, with ingredients like that, it seems to shout, Don’t put me in your mouth. The charcoal is processed with high heat, which “activates” it. This changes its internal structure, making it more porous than regular charcoal.
So what makes it seem attractive to use?
- Activated charcoal has a negative electrical charge, which attracts positively charged molecules. Toxins and gases have a positive charge, causing them to be absorbed by the charcoal.
- Heard of nasty free radicals and the damage they can cause? Yep. Charcoal traps those too.
- Its porous texture makes it efficient in trapping unwanted substances. The best part is that activated charcoal can’t be absorbed by the human body; so it takes the toxins, radicals and bacteria with it.
But can activated charcoal safely whiten teeth?
Research published in the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) found no conclusive evidence that these products work as they say they do on both the whitening and cleaning fronts. While activated charcoal has been FDA approved for many health uses, the American Dental Association (ADA) has not (yet) approved any activated charcoal products for dentistry.
If you use it too frequently, it can strip the enamel off of your teeth, which not only makes your teeth more sensitive, but more susceptible to tooth decay. A potential loss of enamel could also make you more likely to get a cavity. Certainly NOT the result you were hoping for from a trendy new paste, right?
If you’ve NOT tried activated charcoal toothpaste – and its definitely not shown in the marketing photos – you’ll find that it can be downright messy, turning people’s mouths black and sometimes leaving gray residue on the edges of the teeth. (Temporary, but still—kind of defeats the point of a “whitening” toothpaste!)
The JADA article also looked into whether or not the activated charcoal toothpaste studied contained fluoride, a mineral in toothpaste that helps prevent tooth decay. Only one did. However, there is some question as to whether the charcoal would actually deactivate fluoride in the toothpaste, making it ineffective anyway.
Words of caution…
Teeth do not regrow or replenish, so using a substance that could potentially wear down the enamel may be detrimental. If you decide to try it anyway, then it’ll be important to find a good charcoal toothpaste that isn’t too abrasive. Any whitening ability said to exist with charcoal comes from its porosity, not in its abrasiveness. Relative Dentin Abrasivity (RDA) is a guide to measure abrasiveness for all FDA approved dental products and the FDA recommends a score of 200 or below.
There are other (safer, more effective, and less messy) DIY ways to whiten such as brushing with a baking soda and hydrogen peroxide mixture once or twice a week. Combine about 2 tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide with 1 tablespoon of baking soda. The mildly abrasive nature of baking soda (emphasis on mild) can remove stains, naturally whitening the teeth.
Just remember: This isn’t a replacement for your go-to paste—just an add-on to your routine if you’re looking for a natural whitener. Also there are no such things as ‘whitening toothbrushes’ – this is total marketing.
If you’re unsure, check with us before putting the latest miracle whitening product in your mouth – and don’t believe everything you see/hear about on Instagram. Feel free to consult with us before going ahead with any kind of teeth whitening procedure.