Every few years a new dental care fad pops up and we dentists and hygienists start hearing tons of questions about whether the latest dental home remedy or DIY tooth care product really works. One of the most popular ones we’ve seen lately is using activated charcoal paste to whiten teeth. Some video bloggers are claiming amazing teeth whitening effects, but many patients are wondering whether this technique really works, and more importantly, whether it is safe.
The quick answer to both questions is: we don’t know yet. Viable studies have not been completed yet on whether charcoal can remove stains from teeth or whether charcoal can damage teeth.
In case you aren’t familiar with it, charcoal teeth whitening involves adding water to a fine powder of charcoal to make a paste. You then use this paste to brush your teeth with a regular toothbrush for three to five minutes. Supposedly, after you rinse the ghoulish-looking black paste from your mouth, you’re left with an ultra-white, megawatt smile.
The idea behind the trend is reasonable enough. Charcoal has been used for centuries as a purifying agent. Activated charcoal is very porous, and all the tiny little holes on its surface grab on to toxins and particles. That’s why charcoal is used in water filters and by as poison control in emergency rooms. However, whether this purifying effect works on teeth is not known, though in theory the concept does make sense.
Regardless of whether charcoal can be effective for teeth whitening, the more important question is if it is safe. It is possible that charcoal is too abrasive for your teeth, meaning that if the charcoal is too rough, it can damage and strip away the outer layer of your teeth (the enamel). This may not cause a problem after just one use, however, if a patient uses charcoal on their teeth repeatedly over time, they may wear out their teeth, leaving them vulnerable to sensitivity and decay.
Given that we don’t really have any evidence or studies to prove either the effectiveness or safety of charcoal teeth whitening, we can’t say that we recommend it. There are plenty of reasonably priced tooth whitening products at the drugstore that are known to be effective and safe that we’d rather patients use. And remember, the best person to ask for advice about whitening your smile is your dentist, your smile-care professional!