There is a constant stream of new health and beauty products that claim to make us look or feel better. Many consumers appear to be interested in all natural products that would reduce their exposure to synthetic chemicals and have a more gentle impact on the environment. Activated charcoal is a trendy “miracle” ingredient featured in skincare products and now making it’s way into toothpaste! Sounds a little counterproductive, rubbing something black on your teeth to make them white, right? Proponents of this whitening method recommend crushing charcoal tablets and adding water to form a paste-like consistency. There are also several pre-mixed charcoal toothpastes available. Directions instruct you to apply and allow it to sit 3-5 minutes and then simply rinse the paste and stain causing toxins away. When offering my opinion on charcoal for tooth whitening, I address two important questions; will it work and is it safe?
In theory, yes charcoal might help remove certain stains from your teeth. Charcoal is a porous molecule, think of it like a bath sponge with pockets. These pockets give it the ability to trap toxins, chemicals, and nutrients. If the charcoal is applied to the tooth it may trap whatever is causing a stain on the surface and then everything is flushed away when rinsed. It is worth mentioning that not all stains are superficial and charcoal will not be able to combat internal staining or teeth which are “naturally yellowing”. There are people who rave that using charcoal gave them a bright white smile, but just as many who claim it did nothing but stain their sink. I could not find any clinical studies showing charcoal’s efficacy as a whitening agent. Nor could I find any research comparing patient results to previously used methods such as whitening toothpastes, rinses, or bleaching kits.
So science supports the possibility of charcoal as a whitening agent, but it doesn’t sound that appetizing, could it be safe? Charcoal itself is not toxic to the human body. In fact, it is often used as a detoxifying agent if someone accidentally ingests poison. The danger lies in the damage charcoal may have on the enamel. Charcoal is abrasive and can erode the enamel on the surface of your teeth, particularly if applied aggressively. When the enamel is removed, teeth become more sensitive and susceptible to decay. In addition, the dentin layer underneath the enamel has a darker yellow hue, so efforts to whiten may actually cause the teeth to look darker. Some people report black stains on their gums and sensitivity after prolonged use. Keep in mind, most charcoal products do not contain fluoride whereas other whitening toothpastes often do. Fluoride is the decay-fighting ingredient recommended by dentists to restore enamel. Research also shows that charcoal can trap and flush out the beneficial minerals in our saliva. These minerals play a major role in cavity prevention by rebuilding and maintaining enamel health.
In closing, moderation is best if you plan to try charcoal products. Use of a gentle brushing technique and alternating with a fluoride containing toothpaste will help protect your enamel. Until research proves otherwise, I am not convinced that results will be any better or even consistent with other whitening methods and for me the risks outweigh the benefits.
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