Dental Care: Use of Activated Charcoal. Does It Really Work?

Everybody loves a bright, sparkling set of teeth. In order to achieve it, people are prepared to go to great efforts and spend a considerable amount of money. It’s hardly surprising, then, that the internet is flooded with products promising to transform yellow, stained teeth into pearly whites virtually overnight. One of the most popular teeth whitening products on the market right now is activated charcoal. There’s been a whole lot of hype promoting this substance as the ultimate teeth whitening and dental care solution. But how good is it really?

What is Activated Charcoal?

Activated charcoal is quite different to the charcoal briquettes that you buy to put on the BBQ. It has been processed to decrease the size of the pores in the charcoal. This allows it to better absorb elements and perform chemical reactions. 

Young woman holding a black tooth paste with active charcoal, and black tooth brush. She uses activated charcoal infused toothpaste as part of her dental care.
Does Activated Charcoal Work for Teeth Whitening? (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Activated charcoal may be made from wood, peat, sawdust, bone char, petroleum or coconut shells. The charcoal is heated with special gasses that creates tiny pores. This gives the charcoal an extremely high level of microporosity. In fact, one gram of activated charcoal has a surface area of 32,000 square feet.

What Is Activated Charcoal & How Do You Use It | Dr. Eric Berg DC

The special processing that creates the black powdery activated charcoal makes it very useful for a number of medicinal and aesthetic purposes related to the human body. It has been shown to be able to remove yellow stains from teeth.

Charcoal has been used both internally and externally on the human body since at least 450 BCE. It was used extensively by the Egyptians for a range of maladies, including epilepsy, anemia and vertigo. The process by which charcoal was activated was invented in the 1870s. Over the next 50 years, a number of articles in medical journals touted its medicinal benefits. 

The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has classified activated charcoal as ‘safe and effective’ for clinical use.

What is Activated Charcoal Used For?

Apart from its use as a teeth whitening product, activated charcoal has been shown to have a detoxifying effect on the body. It is also believed to be able to boost the immune system. The detoxifying effects of activated charcoal will cleanse the bloodstream of impurities and improve blood flow throughout the brain and the body. It may also help to reduce bad LDL cholesterol levels and improve good HDL cholesterol levels. 

Detox activated charcoal black lemonade.
Activated Charcoal Has Detoxifying Effects (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Activated charcoal has also shown itself to be beneficial in overcoming such digestive problems as bloating, flatulence, and acid reflux. Its ability to cleanse the digestive tract and remove toxins is responsible for its beneficial effects on the digestive system.

Many people swear by activated charcoal as means of overcoming bad breath. It is believed to remove impurities from the mouth that contribute to halitosis. A teaspoonful of activated charcoal mixed with water swilled in the mouth for about 30 seconds and then spat out appears to provide the best results to overcome bad breath.

Teeth Whitening or Teeth Bleaching

In order to understand whether activated charcoal is beneficial for your teeth, we need to understand the difference between teeth whitening and teeth bleaching. When we talk about teeth whitening we are referring to the removal of stains on the surface of the tooth. Bleaching is more extensive, being the chemical processes that take place from within the teeth. 

Bleaching is generally considered a safe practice. It makes use of such bleaching agents like hydrogen peroxide, which may cause some tooth and gum irritation but will not erode the enamel on the teeth. 

Handsome hispanic man wearing casual white sweater at home smiling confident showing and pointing with fingers teeth and mouth. Health concept.
Teeth Whitening or Teeth Bleaching? (Image Source: Shutterstock)

In order to remove stains, a product must have a certain level of abrasiveness. Generally, the more abrasive a teeth whitener is, the more effective it will be. However, there is a price to pay. Abrasive tooth whiteners have been shown to wear down tooth enamel, which helps to protect the teeth against cavities. It is important to note that tooth enamel is not replaceable. 

Tooth whiteners that steadily erode tooth enamel may also be counterproductive in that they can reveal the dentin that lies underneath the enamel. This dentine has a yellowish hue.

Is Activated Charcoal Safe?

Now that we understand the difference between teeth whitening and bleaching, we are in a position to find out is activated charcoal safe. This is a whitening rather than a bleaching product. It does produce an abrasive effect on the teeth and so may, over time, wear away tooth enamel.

Happy looking man posing with toothbrush with activated charcoal toothpaste.
Is Activated Charcoal Safe? (Image Source: Shutterstock)

The American Dental Authority’s position on activated charcoal, according to spokesperson Kimberly Harms, is that there is no evidence that activated charcoal provides any oral health benefits, including teeth whitening. Harms has also stated that activated charcoal may be harmful due to its erosion of enamel and gingiva, the mucosal tissue of the gums.

An article that appeared in the Journal of Applied Oral Science, stated that activated charcoal toothpaste may provide some mild tooth whitening benefits if used on an ongoing basis. However, these benefits are a far cry from the amazing results that are promised in the advertisements that proliferate the internet.

Our Dental Care Recommendations

Because of the potential to erode enamel and gingiva, we do not recommend using activated charcoal as a tooth whitening product. Instead, we suggest using a tooth bleaching product which will make use of chemical reactions within the tooth rather than putting an abrasive compound on the surface of the tooth. If you do wish to use a tooth whitener to remove stains, do so occasionally to prevent enamel erosion. Using activated charcoal on your teeth once or twice a month will not produce any harmful consequences. This will be especially helpful if you regularly consume foods or beverages that are likely to stain your teeth such as coffee and wine.

As a final oral beauty tip, there are things you can do to improve the perceived whiteness of your smile without using any harmful products. If you are wanting a white smile for your selfies, create contrast by weathering dark clothing, dark lipstick, improving your skin tan, and using LED rather than incandescent lighting.