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Charcoal Paste For Teeth Whitening: The Hype and The Facts

Activated charcoal is all about the hype these days – it’s suddenly everywhere and in everything. The black powder has taken the wellness and cosmetics industry by storm. We’ve seen it on face scrubs to supplement pills, and now people swear it’s their holy grail teeth whitener. 

Fans of charcoal-infused toothpaste claim it freshens their breath and whitens their teeth better than a dollop of any other toothpaste you can find on drugstore shelves. However, new studies have called into question whether the black stuff is actually doing more harm than good when it comes to your oral health. Here’s everything you need to know about the charcoal toothpaste trend.

What Is Activated Charcoal?

Not to be confused with the charcoal you use for barbecuing, activated charcoal is essentially a form of carbon from various natural substances, such as olive pits, coconut shells, peat, and slowly burned wood. The fine black grain becomes activated when oxidized under high temperatures. It is extremely porous and highly absorbent. Unlike adsorbent materials, the adsorbent nature of activated charcoal allows it to stick to odors and toxins, rather than soaking them up. 

Medical Purposes

charcoal

For centuries, medical literature has referenced the adsorbent nature of activated charcoal. It was back in the 1800s when it first started to gain prominence as a treatment for accidental ingestion of poison. Up to this day, doctors still use the black substance to stop certain types of poison from entering the bloodstream through the gut. It can also counteract drug overdoses.

There’s lots of anecdotal information and some scientific evidence that talk about activated charcoal’s other uses and benefits. These include reducing flatulence and underarm odor. Because of its reputation to sweep away toxins, people have started using it on masks, and now, toothpaste. 

Is Charcoal Toothpaste Safe?

Ancient medicine techniques gave birth to activated charcoal toothpaste. Some cosmetic dentists even promote the product as they believe it to bind to everything in its path – tartar, stains, viruses, bacteria, and even tonsils. However, a review in the British Dental Journal from early 2019 reveals that the substance provides little protection against tooth decay. Furthermore, there is limited research to support other health claims. 

1. It may cause irritation.

In some cases, adding the black substance to toothpaste can make your oral situation worse. Dr. Joseph Greenwall-Cohen, a co-author of the study from the University of Manchester Dental School, told BBC that charcoal particles can get into fillings and become difficult to take out. They can also get stuck in the gums and irritate them.

2. It is too abrasive for daily use.

Some experts have shown concern about the roughness of the ingredient, which some say could chip away at the enamel if used frequently. Because of its powerful ability to stick with anything it meets, charcoal can also flush away good things like medications along with it. 

Others claim that charcoal isn’t particularly harmful to the teeth, it’s just that it may not provide the amazing results brands advertise. It may not do much for your smile in the long run since the active ingredient doesn’t stay on your teeth long enough to have a meaningful whitening effect.

It may be better to err on the side of caution when brushing with activated charcoal. Be sure to brush very gently to avoid damaging the top layer of your teeth. The small particles can also accumulate in the cracks and crevices of older teeth and make them more prone to staining.

3. It may have a negative effect on dental restorations.

Much of the effects of charcoal on materials used to make crowns, bridges, veneers, and white fillings is still unknown. But one thing we know is that its particles could build up between these devices. This can leave an unappealing black or gray outline in between them.

4. Most tubes sold lack fluoride.

Dentists strongly recommend the use of fluoride toothpaste to combat tooth decay. Yet, many natural and charcoal-infused toothpaste are formulated without this ingredient. There is also evidence suggesting that a topical application of fluoride is much more effective than ingesting it through drinking water. However, drinking fluoridated water and sitting at the dentist’s chair once or twice a year should be enough to help keep your teeth in check, even if you use non-fluoridated toothpaste.

For people seeking a whiter smile, using activated charcoal in addition to brushing with regular toothpaste is a good option. Note that it should not be a replacement. According to the study, the fluoride in regular toothpaste is essential to fighting tooth decay, so it’s important to keep it as part of a daily regimen.

Does Charcoal Whiten Teeth?

A simple surface stain removal and whitening are two different things. Extrinsic or surface stains live on the enamel layer of the tooth. They come from usual suspects: tobacco, red wine, coffee, and dark-colored drinks and foods. Brushing with toothpaste or getting a surface whitening treatment is usually enough to remove them. 

Deeper, intrinsic stains, on the other hand, are dark coloring that comes from inside the tooth. They could be a result of weak enamel, trauma, overuse of fluoride, or certain types of medication. No matter what how much you try to whiten the surface of your teeth, it will not remove the underlying intrinsic stain. You might need a major treatment like bleaching to correct this.

Charcoal toothpaste is made to remove surface stains effectively, but may not be able to whiten the teeth. But no matter how much you try to whiten your teeth at home, it will never equal what an in-office whitening treatment can do.

The Bottom Line

Activated charcoal has been proven to help with certain medical problems, but teeth whitening isn’t one of them. If you do decide to try it for that purpose, make sure you use it in moderation. This ingredient is abrasive and shouldn’t be used daily. Talk to your dentist to see if this treatment is safe for you to try. You can also get other suggestions to help lighten your teeth color.