Charcoal is a hot trend in teeth whitening, but it’s hardly a new dental care method. Charcoal’s history as a toothpaste scrub dates back to ancient Rome, and the ancient Egyptians used it for its antibacterial properties.
But is charcoal actually effective for teeth whitening, and more importantly, is it safe? In this guide, we’ll look at the science behind charcoal teeth whitening to find out if it really works, or if it’s doing more harm than good.
Table of Contents
How Does Charcoal Teeth Whitening Work?
As a teeth-whitening agent, charcoal can take the form of a toothpaste additive, toothbrush bristles, capsules, or a loose powder.
Charcoal Toothpaste Additive: When charcoal is added to toothpaste, it can be the main or supplemental ingredient, and it can make the toothpaste black or light gray, depending on the concentration. Toothpastes that use it in small amounts are typically harnessing charcoal’s many antibacterial properties rather than its teeth-whitening power.
Charcoal Toothbrushes: Some toothbrushes on the market have bristles infused with activated charcoal. They are supposed to whiten teeth and help kill germs that cause gum disease and bad breath.
Loose Charcoal Powder: Loose charcoal powder is just that. You can buy a small jar of activated charcoal to put on your toothbrush.
Charcoal Capsules: Activated charcoal also comes in capsules that you can take as a supplement. Some people use activated charcoal instead of toothpaste by opening a capsule and mixing it with a little water until it forms a paste.
Does Charcoal Teeth Whitening Work?
Kind of. It may remove some surface stains, but continued daily use can result in many unwanted side effects.
It’s important to note that activated charcoal has FDA approval for treating many health issues, but dentistry isn’t one of them. In fact, the American Dental Association hasn’t approved any activated charcoal products, and none of them carry the ADA Seal of Acceptance.
A 2017 study in the Journal of the American Dental Association showed no evidence to support that dental products containing activated charcoal are safe or effective.
Many experts agree that activated charcoal, which is a fine but very abrasive powder, may appear to remove stains and make your teeth whiter, but it’s actually wearing away your enamel. Sure, it can remove some built-up surface stains in the short term, but it won’t help stains that have penetrated deep into the enamel, nor will it brighten intrinsic stains caused by childhood illnesses, medicine use, and fluorosis. And in the long run, your enamel may become thinner, allowing the naturally yellow dentin beneath to show through.
Can Charcoal Whitening Damage My Teeth?
It may take a while, but if you use charcoal consistently over time, it can cause serious damage to your teeth and gums. Some side effects of regular charcoal whitening include:
- Thinning enamel: Brushing every day with charcoal can wear away your enamel over time. Eventually, the yellow layer of dentin underneath will show through the enamel, making your teeth look more yellow than when you started.
- Tooth sensitivity: Tooth sensitivity goes hand in hand with thinning enamel. The enamel is a protective layer and once it wears away, there’s less protecting the dentin and nerve. This could cause sensitivity to hot and cold, and possibly even nerve damage.
- Gum irritation and erosion: If used consistently, charcoal’s abrasive nature can irritate your gums and eventually cause gum erosion. Once this happens, you could be at risk for gum disease and bone loss.
- May affect medicine absorption: Since activated charcoal is used to treat accidental poison ingestion, research suggests that, if you swallow charcoal powder or charcoal toothpaste, it could absorb some of your medicine, making it less effective.
- Could ruin dental restorations: Charcoal’s abrasiveness might scratch your existing porcelain or composite restorations like veneers or crowns. Particles of food and drink can settle in these micro-scratches, making them appear dull. Since porcelain and composite don’t respond to traditional whitening methods, you’ll have to replace them.
- Charcoal particles could get stuck in restorative work: Small particles of charcoal could lodge themselves around the edges of your fillings, making them appear gray. They could also accumulate in microscopic cracks and act like sandpaper, wearing away the filling.
- Might worsen gum disease: If you have even the starting symptoms of periodontal disease, fine charcoal particles can get below the gum line, where you can’t remove them with regular home care. When gum tissue senses a foreign object, its response is to pull away. This can irritate already inflamed gum tissue, causing it to pull away from the bone.
Reduce the Risk
Still interested in whitening your teeth with charcoal? If you still want to use charcoal whitening products, there are some steps you can take to minimize your risk of tooth and gum damage.
- Visit your dentist regularly: You should always visit the dentist twice per year for an exam and professional cleaning, but especially if you use charcoal whitening products. Your dentist and hygienist can examine your teeth under magnification to check for signs of enamel wear and restoration damage.
- Limit use: Depending on the method of charcoal whitening you choose, try only using it around once per week.
- Step up your home care routine: To reduce the risk of enamel erosion and gum irritation, floss well and rinse with a fluoridated mouthwash to help wash away any charcoal particles.
- Limit food and drinks that stain teeth: Since the charcoal can scratch the surfaces of your teeth and dental restorations like crowns and veneers, be extra diligent about avoiding food and drinks that stain your teeth.
- Avoid if you have gingivitis or periodontal disease: If you have signs of periodontal disease, it’s probably best to avoid charcoal whitening, since the particles might work their way below your gum line and inflame your gums. The only way to remove them is with a professional cleaning.
Alternatives to Charcoal Whitening
If charcoal whitening isn’t good for your teeth and gums, what can you use instead?
Traditional whitening comes in different methods, so you can choose one that is comfortable for you. In-office whitening, overseen by a dentist, is a great way to whiten your teeth several shades in about an hour. Popular at-home methods include whitening trays, strips, pens, and LED-enhanced whitening. Most at-home methods are also available in different strengths, allowing you to whiten as much or as little as you like.
If you liked the idea of charcoal whitening because it seemed more natural, but now you’re having second thoughts, you can read our article, The Four Most Natural Teeth Whitening Products, to help you choose a method that’s right for you.
Whitening toothpaste and rinses offer gentle whitening over a longer time period. They only remove surface stains, though, so if you have stains set deep in your enamel or inside your dentin, you may need a stronger method. Everyday use of a gentle whitening toothpaste may whiten your teeth a couple of shades over a few weeks.
As always, it’s best to check with your dentist before you start using any new dental product, and charcoal whitening is no different. If you get the go-ahead, it may remove some mild surface stains to give you a brighter smile. But if you already have some of the risk factors listed above, it’s probably best to steer clear of charcoal whitening.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is charcoal teeth whitening?
The charcoal in teeth-whitening products is finely ground, activated charcoal that you’ll mix with water and use as a scrub.
What kinds of charcoal whitening products are available?
Charcoal whitening powder is available in toothpaste, capsule form, loose powder, or toothbrushes with charcoal-infused bristles.
Is activated charcoal the same as charcoal for my barbeque?
No! Activated charcoal is made from pure, controlled ingredients and it’s designed for medical use. It’s made by burning carbon-rich material at very high temperatures. Barbeque charcoal is made by burning wood in the absence of oxygen.
What is activated charcoal for teeth whitening made of?
Charcoal for teeth whitening is usually made from charred and crushed coconuts, olive pits, and slowly burned wood.
Is charcoal whitening new?
It might be trendy right now, but people have used charcoal as a toothpaste and a teeth-whitening treatment since ancient Rome.
Does charcoal whitening work?
Charcoal may work on minor surface stains, but it won’t remove stains that have penetrated the enamel or stains inside the dentin layer beneath the enamel.
Can charcoal whitening damage my teeth?
Yes. Using it too often or brushing too hard with charcoal can erode your enamel and gums. It can also discolor existing restorations and contribute to gum disease.
Who shouldn’t use charcoal to whiten their teeth?
If you have crowns or veneers on your front teeth or you have gum disease, you should reconsider using charcoal whitening.
Can I reduce my risk of damage?
Yes! You can limit how often you use charcoal whitening and visit your dentist every six months to make sure your teeth and gums are healthy.
What can I use to whiten my teeth instead of activated charcoal?
Traditional whitening methods like in-office treatments, trays, strips, and pens are all effective teeth-whitening methods. If you’re looking for a truly gentle way to whiten, you could use whitening toothpaste and mouthwash. It will take longer than other methods but will cause the least sensitivity.