Charcoal for Teeth Whitening: Does It Really Work?

Charcoal is a growing trend in dental health which some claim can whiten teeth at home, fight cavities, and freshen breath. Many brands are putting activated charcoal in toothpastes, but detractors doubt that this black dentifrice can really give you a brighter smile.

What is activated charcoal? Activated charcoal is a fine black powder made from wood pulp, coconut shells, and other natural substances that are oxidized into charcoal under extreme heat. It is abrasive and can reduce absorption of medication or nutrients when consumed.

Bottom line: Activated charcoal can clean your teeth, but it can also erode your dental enamel and even harm the dentin layer of your teeth. This is another oral care fad that may not be worth it in the long run.

Keep reading to understand the full benefits vs. downsides so you can make an educated decision for yourself.

If you want an expert to help guide you through your dental care journey, schedule an appointment with Rejuvenation Dentistry today! We help people like you take control of their oral health to restore that natural, bright smile everyone wants.

Does activated charcoal powder whiten teeth?

Technically, activated charcoal powder can whiten teeth by removing surface stains (extrinsic stains), but most substances with a little abrasion can do that.

Charcoal cannot remove deep stains. It doesn’t have a bleaching effect like true whitening substances. Stick to baking soda which is the safer way to whiten your smile.

Charcoal can help remove yellowish plaque buildup, but it cannot prevent future plaque from sticking to your teeth and causing a yellow tint.

If you choose to use charcoal toothpaste, limit usage to 2 times per week. Daily usage would likely lead to damaged enamel and long-term tooth sensitivity.

The 5 Downsides of Charcoal Teeth Whitening Powder

Charcoal teeth whitening powder and charcoal toothpaste can only whiten teeth as much as a toothbrush or a napkin. It is often outclassed by hydrogen peroxide, whitening strips, and even blue covarine.

But there are certainly downsides to activated charcoal.

1. Abrasivity

Charcoal is very abrasive. Imagine scraping your teeth with sandpaper. It’s not good for your dental health.

Rubbing activated charcoal toothpaste against your teeth does two bad things:

  • Erodes your dental enamel
  • Roughens your tooth surface

2. More Surface Stains

The rough tooth surface we mentioned makes it easier for bacteria to form plaque on your teeth.

Plaque stains your teeth, so charcoal may actually increase your risk for future tooth discoloration.

Charcoal may also accumulate on the surface of rough teeth or veneers, creating black or gray stains.

3. Tooth Sensitivity

Charcoal wears away your tooth enamel. Thinner dental enamel results in weaker tooth structure and higher tooth sensitivity.

Other causes of tooth sensitivity include gingivitis, cavities, damaged teeth, or damaged dental work.

4. Medication Interference

Activated charcoal may interfere with certain medications because charcoal decreases how much your body absorbs certain substances. Charcoal even reduces absorption of nutrients, not just medicine.

(Side note: The reduction in absorption has actually made charcoal an effective treatment for poisoning in the past two centuries.)

This downside primarily applies to swallowing charcoal, but we mention it because small amounts of toothpaste are often swallowed.

5. Not Suitable for Kids

Charcoal toothpaste is not suitable for kids for a few reasons:

  • Researchers have not conducted peer-reviewed studies to specifically demonstrate the safety of charcoal in children.
  • Charcoal erodes dental enamel, which is particularly harmful for children who have more life left to live with weak, sensitive teeth.
  • Children are more likely to swallow toothpaste. Swallowed charcoal reduces absorption of the medication, vitamins, and nutrients vital to children’s health.

Natural Oral Health Remedies That Actually Work

Check out these natural  home remedies that are alternatives to charcoal toothpaste:

  • Daily oral hygiene, including brushing with a soft-bristled toothbrush, flossing, and rinsing out your mouth after eating and drinking will help you maintain a whiter smile at home.
  • Baking soda is an effective way to whiten your teeth. It’s abrasive, but not as much as trendy whiteners like activated charcoal or apple cider vinegar.
  • Hydrogen peroxide can whiten your teeth naturally, but excessive amounts will harm your dental enamel and your gums. In-office dental treatments using hydrogen peroxide yield better results than at-home peroxide treatment.

Other Teeth Whitening Options

Here are effective options for whiter teeth that are not natural but may still be safe:

  • Whitening toothpastes may boast approval by the American Dental Association, but the ADA is not perfect. Although whitening toothpastes may not erode your enamel like charcoal, common ingredients in regular toothpaste, such as sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), triclosan, and parabens, may still result in overall health problems.
  • Whitening strips are often approved by conventional dentists or the ADA. However, these teeth whitening products may lead to gum sensitivity or damaged enamel if you leave them on too long.
  • Professional teeth whitening is safely performed by a dental professional. The main downside to dental whitening treatment is the high cost.

How to Prevent Tooth Stains

Here are the 5 best ways to prevent tooth stains from tarnishing your bright white teeth:

  1. Practice proper dental hygiene every day to prevent tooth stains. Brush and floss multiple times every day to remove food particles and harmful bacteria that cause tooth decay, bad breath, and an imbalanced microbiome. Use a healthy prebiotic fluoride-free toothpaste instead of charcoal toothpaste that will mess with your dental health.
  2. Cut back on harmful foods that are bad for your teeth, such as coffee, red wine, acidic foods, and sugar. Replace these foods with tooth-healthy treats, such as crunchy fruits or vegetables, calcium-rich foods, and green tea.
  3. Oil pulling reduces bad bacteria in your mouth, reducing your risk for cavities, gum disease, and tooth stains. Coconut oil pulling has natural antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties. And it promotes fresh breath!
  4. Cultivate a balanced oral microbiome. Reduce carb consumption, avoid mouth-drying alcohol, and consider oral probiotics to replenish beneficial bacteria in your mouth. If your microbiome is imbalanced, harmful bacteria may grow faster on your tooth surface, resulting in yellow teeth stains.
  5. Twice-yearly visits to the dentist are imperative. Every six months, a dental professional should be cleaning your teeth and looking for early warning signs of oral disease.

If you notice a rapid change in the color, sensitivity, or texture of your teeth, make an appointment with your dentist immediately.

Talk to a dentist about better whitening options.

At the end of the day, charcoal toothpaste may get people excited about brushing teeth, leading to increased tooth brushing. In that way, activated charcoal has benefits.

However, charcoal toothpaste cannot whiten teeth. In fact, it can harm teeth.

Don’t worry though! There are other teeth whitening remedies that you can discuss with a qualified dentist.

If you’re in New York and want cutting-edge dental treatments that prioritize maintaining your tooth structure to help you achieve that pearly smile, schedule an appointment with Rejuvenation Dentistry!

Dr. Gerry Curatola is a renowned biologic restorative dentist with more than 40 years of clinical practice experience.

He studied neuroscience at Colgate University and attended dental school at the New York University (NYU) College of Dentistry where he now serves as Adjunct Clinical Associate Professor in the Department of Cariology and Comprehensive Care.