Activated charcoal has long been praised as a universal antidote with many hospitals and poison centers using it to treat accidental poisoning or a drug overdose. Other health benefits have seen activated charcoal used as a natural treatment for lowering cholesterol levels, improving kidney function and even as a hangover cure.
More recently this superfine powder had been adopted by the health and beauty industry, with activated charcoal now found in everything from face masks and skin cleansers to detox formulas. The latest trend sees activated charcoal used as an agent for whitening your teeth.
Whitening your teeth with charcoal can be a controversial subject with some dental experts recommending it as a safe and efficient way to whiten teeth. Yet other doctors will argue there’s no evidence to date that activated charcoal is good for your teeth and express concern for the actual damage it may be doing to your teeth and/or gums.
Charcoal for Teeth Whitening: Are You Serious??
Let’s start by saying nobody is suggesting you grab some leftover charcoal from your backyard grill and start brushing your teeth with it. Although made from the same base materials, activated charcoal has been activated at high temperatures to increase its absorption properties. The charcoal briquettes that you use to light your barbecue haven’t been activated and contain additional substances that are toxic to humans, so please don’t go putting them in your mouth.
The idea of putting charcoal in your mouth may seem crazy, just as people found it weird to be using charcoal as a facial cleaner, but now many beauty salons use activated charcoal. Alternative dental treatments have used activated charcoal as an alternative to fluoride for quite a while with long-term fluoride ingestion actually having been shown to have harmful effects on the human body.
Before we all start to use charcoal for whitening the teeth, many of us want some questions answered, after all we are going to be putting something very black on our white teeth? What exactly is activated charcoal, how does it work, how do we use it on our teeth and is it safe? Let’s take a look in more detail at the effects of charcoal on our teeth and hopefully by the end we’ll all be smiling with a sparling grin.
What Exactly is Activated Charcoal?
Activated charcoal is a fine powder that can be made from bone char, coconut shells, peat, petroleum coke, coal, olive pits or sawdust and yes it’s black, very black. Activation means it’s processed at very high temperatures to change the internal structure which increases its surface area and reduces the size of its pores. The result is a charcoal that’s much more porous and absorbent than regular charcoal.
You can get capsules of activated charcoal from the pharmacy that may be selling it as a remedy for too much gas in the body or many beauty salons may sell it as facial and skin cleanser. Some forms of activated charcoal are also sold online or in your regular retail outlet as a powder specifically for cleaning and whitening teeth. Some companies even produce toothpastes that contain activated charcoal as the primary ingredient.
How Does Activated Charcoal Work?
Traditionally used in air filters or for water filtration, activated charcoal absorbs toxins. When used in the body to treat poisoning or drug overdoses, the larger surface area of activated charcoal has many nooks and crannies that can draw in and trap the toxins in your body.
The porous texture of activated charcoal has a negative electrical charge which it uses to attract positively charged molecules, like those found in toxins or gases. The charcoal can trap toxins and chemicals in the gut and since the charcoal is not absorbed by the body it carries them out with your next bowel movement. Basically it’s like a big sponge that traps all the bad stuff in your body.
Just like absorbing the toxins in your body, when used on the teeth activated charcoal is said to absorb plaque and other teeth-staining compounds. Activated charcoal binds to the toxins on your teeth like stains or plaque which not only look unattractive but can produce further toxins which can lead to cavities and gum disease. When the activated charcoal is rinsed away, you’re left with cleaner and healthy teeth.
Activated Charcoal and Oral Health
As well as removing the actual toxins or stains from your teeth, charcoal helps maintain a balanced pH level in your mouth which can be essential for oral health.
The same way an acidic pH balance can have negative effects on your body and lead to a variety of illness or diseases, the pH balance in your mouth directly affects your teeth and gums. An acidic mouth can also have a negative effect on the immune system and contribute to diseases like diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, respiratory disease and cancer. Gum disease can be much harder to prevent or treat with a weakened immune system, what’s the point of having gleaming white teeth if they’re falling out of your gums or being attacked by acids?
Having a healthy pH balance can lead not just to better oral health but also greater overall health. Unfortunately many of our modern day habits can be more acidic when we look at diet, lifestyle, exposure to chemicals and stress. Diet is where we can make the biggest changes and eat a more alkaline diet that’s rich in vegetables and fruit which are preferably organic and pesticide free. This isn’t always possible and activated charcoal can be an ideal way of balancing the pH of your mouth, preventing cavities, fighting the bacteria that causes bad breath and gum disease while keeping your pearly whites sparkling.
How Do You Use Activated Charcoal to Whiten Teeth?
This is where it can get messy but don’t worry most people find the effects are worth it. To start with your mouth may look like something from a bad horror movie but it does actually work although its whitening power stops at stains and plaque, if your teeth are naturally yellow or darker you may need an additional bleaching product. Unfortunately activated charcoal can get absolutely everywhere if you’re not paying too much attention.
Dependent on what form of activated charcoal you’ve selected you should first prepare it for use. Capsules need to be opened and the fine powder can be mixed with water to form a paste while tablets or larger pieces of activated charcoal may need grinding to a fine powder before use. (Just please don’t whatever you do be tempted to try using a charcoal briquette. As we said earlier they’re completely different things and contain toxic substances!)
If you’re using just the fine powder, use a slightly damp toothbrush (we recommend not using your regular brush, it will never be white again!). Lean over the container, to avoid spilling on the floor, and dip your toothbrush into the powdered charcoal and dab onto your teeth, brushing in small gentle circles for about two minutes before spitting out carefully and rinsing well. Your mouth will feel incredibly clean, not so much your sink at first. The following video shows one woman’s experience using activated charcoal for whitening her teeth, don’t let it put you off:
A Homemade Natural Activated Charcoal Toothpaste Recipe
If you want more than simply white teeth and to improve your oral health significantly you could purchase one of the many toothpastes that contain activated charcoal as their main ingredient. Or you could try making your own at home with therapeutic essential oils that can be found at most health stores or are widely available online.
Adding coconut oil and bentonite clay to your toothpaste mixture can help reduce the bacteria in your mouth while remineralizing your teeth too. Combining baking soda and activated charcoal they can work together to help you get the whitest of teeth.
- Begin by making a liquid base of 1.25 ounces of coconut oil, gently melted and gradually mixed with 20 drops of peppermint essential oil and 5 drops of tea tree essential oil.
- Combine with of 2 ounces of baking soda, 2 ounces of activated charcoal powder and a pinch of pink Himalayan salt.
- When the coconut oil mixture is cooled, mix with the powder base and stir well with a non-metallic tool until well combined. You want to avoid using metal implements as it can deactivate the bentonite clay.
Store in a glass container and use twice a day by removing your desired amount with a small disposable spatula to avoid contaminating the mixture. Brush as normal making sure to rinse well afterwards.
Some people have found a significant improvement in the whiteness of their teeth after just two uses of a similar toothpaste mixture—even those who have badly stained teeth through drinking too much coffee or smoking.
Is Activated Charcoal Safe for Your Teeth?
A concern many people have is whether activated charcoal will stain existing dental work like crowns, veneers or fillings. Although most people who’ve tried this method of whitening their teeth have reported no problems, it’s definitely worth checking with your dentist if you have any of these.
Other people may be worried if it will absorb the minerals from our teeth like calcium. Most research has shown that activated charcoal binds mainly to organic compounds or toxins and not minerals so there shouldn’t be too many worries about demineralizing or weakening your teeth. Again if you’re worried, speak to your dentist before trying any new method of whitening your teeth.
A bigger concern for many dental professionals is just how abrasive activated charcoal can be on your teeth. Although there’s no research on how abrasive charcoal is to the surface of your teeth, many dentists only recommend use of activated charcoal without brushing or scrubbing. Dabbing it onto your teeth with your finger or a cotton swab and leaving it to sit on the surface of the tooth before rinsing can be much less abrasive yet still achieve similar effects. Using more liquid with the powder and making a mouthwash or rinse can also be another way of cutting down on the abrasiveness of activated charcoal.
Does Activated Charcoal Work for Whitening Teeth?
Activated charcoal is limited in only working on plaque or surface stains on the teeth that it can bind to, especially those from drinks like coffee, tea or red wine. The absorbent properties of the charcoal effectively pulls these stains away from the teeth. Activated charcoal usually has very little effect on teeth that may have yellowed from internal problems or antibiotics.
Although many people may say they’ve seen a significant whitening, even including celebrity endorsements, dental professional associations tend to be more skeptical. The Oral Health Foundation in the U.K. issued a statement as recently as 2017 which warns people that the whitening effects of activated charcoal may have been overstated and can actually put your teeth at risk. They conclude many of the success stories have been anecdotal, celebrities have often had professional tooth whitening treatment and even if there is an improvement it’s likely to be short term as it only removes surface stains.
More worrying is activated charcoal may be actually damaging your teeth, not the first time researchers have expressed such concerns over use of activated charcoal as a whitening agent. Another study in 2017 from the Journal of Physics: Conference Series reported that regular brushing with charcoal will increase the roughness of tooth enamel making it easier for bacteria to stick to the surface. Greater plaque build up, more dental cavities and even periodontal disease could be the results of using activated charcoal.
Should You Whiten Your Teeth with Charcoal?
Activated charcoal for whitening your teeth is pretty new and there’s a lot we still don’t know about it. Although there isn’t enough scientific evidence to prove it can whiten your smile while keeping the teeth healthy, some dentists, like Dr Richard Marques of Wimpole Street Dental, recommend it as one of the best ways of keeping your teeth white at home, and it’s a lot cheaper than professional tooth whitening.
The American Dental Association tends to be more careful in their wait and see approach with a review from their journal coming to the conclusion that dentists should advise patients of caution when using these new products and their unproven claims of efficiency and safety. Always speak to your dentist before trying any new tooth whitening methods and if you notice any discomfort or sensitivity of the teeth stop using immediately.
The potential dangers of too much fluoride can be a convincing reason to change your regular toothpaste, and activated charcoal can be an ideal natural choice. It’s a relatively safe and cost-effective way of whitening your teeth at home with many dramatic before and after photos out there on the net. You’ll certainly be smiling if your teeth are anywhere near as gleaming as my sink was after rinsing away the charcoal.