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brushing teeth with charcoal

Activated charcoal seems to be all the rage lately, with claims of toothpaste infused with it being able to whiten teeth all over social media. Does activated charcoal do any real good, though? Today, we’re here to explore if it actually helps whiten your teeth and if it is safe.

What is Activated Charcoal for Teeth Whitening?

First things first, let’s explore what activated charcoal is. Once hailed as the “universal antidote,” this fine, black powder can be made from coal, bone char, peat, sawdust, and other sources, that is then heated to reduce its surface area (and thus, “activating” it).

In this form, it has long been used as a remedy for poisons (as it can trap various toxins and prevent your body from absorbing them), and, anecdotally, as a natural agent for preventing gas, reducing cholesterol, and even nullifying hangovers.

When it comes to whitening teeth, the most common claim is that it can help absorb plaque and clean stains from coffee, wine, and other drinks that often mar your teeth’s white appearance. This claim, however, is not one that has been backed by any rigorous scientific study.

What The Research Tells Us

As it stands today, a 2017 literature review by the American Dental Association concluded that there is “insufficient clinical and laboratory data to substantiate the safety and efficacy claims of charcoal and charcoal-based dentifrices.” In other words, buyer beware, as the therapeutic claims made by many activated charcoal toothpastes might not be all they are cracked up to be.

What’s more, there’s reason to suspect that the abrasive nature of activated charcoal may cause more harm than good in some cases. Used regularly, that fine powder might actually cause the enamel of your teeth to wear down. Wear down your enamel too much, and you risk exposing the underlying layer of your teeth — dentin — which is softer and more yellow than the overlying enamel. This is why the ADA recommends using toothpastes with a relative dentin abrasivity (RDA) of 250 or lower.

Is This OK for Your Teeth?

Disregarding activated charcoal’s abrasive nature, it’s not bad for your teeth, per se, but if you’re brushing with it, it’s likely that it won’t do much good for you in the long term, as it doesn’t have enough time to sit on the surface of your teeth and produce any meaningful whitening effect.

Another thing that’s important to note is that there’s a difference between removing stains (the central claim of activated charcoal toothpastes) from your teeth and whitening them. The first involves, as the name suggests, getting rid of unsightly stains on the enamel, and is generally done under the supervision of dental professionals and with their specialized tools. Whitening, on the other hand, is a process that actually changes the underlying color of your teeth, which, among people, can vary based on factors like the thickness of your enamel. So, even if you remove surface stains, your teeth can still appear somewhat yellow based on what lies beneath your enamel.

charcoal toothpaste

Finally, if you are still set on incorporating activated charcoal into your dental routine, know that there are a number of DIY alternatives you can try instead. Mixing a bit of baking soda with water, for instance, can help whiten teeth while simultaneously freshening your breath. Similarly, diluted hydrogen peroxide can work to whiten your teeth over time. You might want to try some of these alternatives out before you place that order for some activated charcoal toothpaste.

Are you interested in a whiter smile this summer? Bright, white teeth are well within your reach; come learn more about our teeth whitening services today!