Teeth Whitening with Activated Charcoal

Charcoal toothpastes and powders are a recent innovation to the dental product market.
Marketing campaigns flooding social media such as Instagram, Facebook and YouTube claim
that brushing with activated charcoal whitens teeth and improves the health of the teeth and
gums.

So how does it work?

In the early 1900’s the World Health Organisation (WHO) listed activated charcoal as an
essential medicine for treating poisoning and overdoses. When taken, the activated charcoal
allows the drugs and toxins to bind to it, helping to safely rid the body of unwanted substances.
To date there have been no scientific studies to confirm that activated charcoal is effective in
whitening teeth or improving the health of the teeth or the gums.

Some wellness gurus advocate the activated charcoal toothpastes essentially help rid the mouth
of bacteria and toxins the same way it helps the gut – binding to the toxins and expelling them.
However, due to the abrasiveness of charcoal products the disadvantages outweigh the
benefits.

Abrasive products can certainly help lift extrinsic (surface) staining from things such as tea,
coffee, red wine and tobacco, making the teeth appear whiter.

Excess abrasion to the teeth can cause gingival recession , enamel loss and dentine exposure,
all of which lead to heightened sensitivity to hot and cold and increased risk of tooth decay.

How does this happen?

Enamel is essentially the hard protective, white layer of the teeth. It protects the inner, softer
layers from hot and cold stimulus and well as being a strong barrier against decay causing
bacteria.

With any abrasive products loss of enamel leads to the darkening or yellowing of the teeth – this
is the second layer of the tooth, the dentine being exposed. Thus counteracting any “ whitening”
from the charcoal toothpaste.

Exposed dentine also increases tooth sensitivity and is at higher risk of dental decay due to its
soft composition, decay is likely to spread at a higher rate.

It is important to understand enamel has no regenerative components, once it is gone, its gone.
The only way to improve the discolouration or damage is by having a dentist place a restoration.
(Filling/ crown/ veneer)

Further , the charcoal products can have a negative aesthetic effect by staining or lodging in the
margins of existing restorations/fillings/ veneers making the margin appear dark and stained.
Any charcoal lodging below the gums can cause inflammation and trauma. This can be not only
be unsightly, but also difficult to remove or polish away.

Our View on Charcoal Toothpastes and Whitening Products:

While brushing with an activated charcoal tooth paste may feel fresh and clean, it is important to
consider the long term effects and damage you may be causing to your teeth and always
consult with your dental professional prior to using.

Charcoal products have been shown to lift surface staining providing a superficial , temporary
result. However there is no formal evidence to suggest any actual whitening or further dental
health benefits. Long term use is not recommended due to the abrasive nature of the product.
As dental professionals we will always recommend products that are backed with research due
to the fact it has been tried and tested for safety, the health of the mouth and possible side
effects.

For whitening the products we recommend will contain either carbide peroxide or hydrogen
peroxide. Low percentage peroxide products can be purchased over the counter but higher
strength professional whitening products should always be applied for administered by a dental
professional.

Hydrogen and carbamide peroxides work by penetrating the enamel and breaking molecular
bonds, charcoal products only remove surface stains through abrasion.
So while activated charcoal has been approved by the FDA, as with any abrasive products it is
best used with caution. Always consult with your dental professional when considering using
alternative dental products.

References:
1: The Pharmaceutical Journal , Charcoal Toothpastes : What we know so far

https://www.pharmaceutical-journal.com/opinion/correspondence/charcoal-toothpastes-what-
we-know-so-far/20203167.article

2: Academy of General Dentistry: Activated Charcoal as a Whitening Dentrifice

https://www.omicsonline.org/proceedings/activated-charcoal-as-a-whitening-dentifrice-
37325.html

3: Dentistry IQ: Black Toothpaste and White Toothpaste, When Opposites Collide

https://www.dentistryiq.com/articles/2017/03/black-toothpaste-and-white-teeth-when-opposites-
collide.html

4: Clifton M. Carey, BA, MS, PhD, Professor, Tooth Whitening: what we now know
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4058574/

5: Journal of Physics: Conference Series, Surface Changes of enamel after brushing with
charcoal toothpaste

http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1742-6596/884/1/012002/pdf