Activated Charcoal Teeth Whitening

By Catherine M. Fascilla, D.D.S.

Is it really possible to whiten your teeth with black charcoal? It seems counter intuitive but it is a popular fad these days that appears to work.

Activated charcoal is charcoal that has been heated to increase its porosity and its ability to bind toxins and contaminants. It is used to purify water and air and has a long history when it comes to med-ical uses, primarily treating patients who have been poisoned or overdosed. But using charcoal to clean teeth really isn’t new. Powdered charcoal was used in toothpastes back in ancient Roman times and was also a key ingredient in homemade toothpastes in the nineteenth century.

Today, the internet marketplace is filled with many charcoal dental products from tablets and capsules to powders and pastes. These are products made from organic materials and are intended for oral use, not to be confused with the coal that we use in our barbecue. Even Colgate has its own version that is marketed in India and can be purchased on Amazon. While most of the products are pure black in color, a few of them are made from the lighter ash of charcoal and are light gray or beige. Colgate’s toothpaste is white with gray swirls. The products range from those made solely of coal to those with added flavorings and other ingredients that improve texture and consistency.

Charcoal products appeal to those who are looking for inexpensive methods of tooth whitening or those who prefer holistic products, void of chemicals like triclosan or fluoride commonly found in national-ly branded toothpastes.

Social media sites have gone viral with before and after photos of people who’ve used charcoal products, some depicting obviously great results while others suggesting possible brightening. Testimo-nials describing experimentation with these products emphasized the general consensus that the prod-ucts do make your teeth feel really clean. Most think their teeth look at least slightly brighter. Many warn, however, that the products are messy and care should be taken to avoid turning your sink black. Some recommended that they be used in the shower. While there were no strong objections to flavor, which ranges from tasteless to minty and fresh, most preferred the flavor of their conventional toothpastes.

An article in the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA, Sept. 2017) researched the existing literature “for clinical studies on the use of charcoal powders and dentifrices” and simply conclud-ed that there isn’t enough evidence to support the safety and effectiveness of these products. The con-cern that most dentists have is over long-term use. Charcoal is abrasive and will wear enamel over time, increasing sensitivity and yellowing teeth as the softer darker layer of dentin is exposed. Other concerns are an increased susceptibility to tooth decay as the enamel is roughened and as these products general-ly lack fluoride. One dentist even expressed a concern about the possibility of permanent black staining of the tongue and gums, again over long-term use.

As a dentist, I would have to advise that you consult with your dentist. Only he or she knows your person dental condition. They have the knowledge of all of the options available to fill your needs. I would agree with the ADA that larger-scale and well-designed studies are needed to establish conclusive evidence for safety and efficacy. Once enamel is lost, it’s lost forever. It’s wise to be cautious. You can’t always believe everything you see or read on the internet.

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