Activated charcoal products are undoubtedly one of the biggest trending dental fads in recent memory. Charcoal-infused products – including toothpastes, gels, liquids and toothpowders – have been pushed into the limelight by social media influencers on sites like Instagram and Youtube.
If photos and videos of folks smearing mud-like substance across their pearlies have stirred your curiosity, this article will help break down the ‘whats’ and ‘whys’ of charcoal whitening – and to separate the facts from the myths.
What is activated charcoal?
Activated charcoal is not dissimilar to regular charcoal, in that it is also made from coal, peat, wood, coconut shell or petroleum.
Created primarily as a medicine, activated charcoal is used to treat poisonings, reduce flatulence, lower cholesterol levels, and treat bile flow problems during pregnancy. According to some, it also helps with hangovers.
Activated charcoal is developed from heating common charcoal in the presence of a gas. This process creates numerous internal spaces or “pores” in the regular charcoal, allowing activated charcoal to “trap” chemicals in them.
This porous texture is supposed to “trap” toxins from your teeth and mouth – thus helping to remove the stains. The charcoal toothpaste purportedly helps to erase stains by trapping surface debris and impurities resulting in a healthier, cleaner and, yes, whiter teeth.
Unfortunately, the teeth experts disagree.
What do experts say?
The British Dental Journal published s review of 50 charcoal toothpastes to verify each of their whitening claims and found scant, if any evidence at all.
Although the evidence-based paper found no scientific proof to back up these claims, it issued disclaimers regarding the abrasive quality of charcoal actually causing tooth decay. The same paper warned that gum disease patients may even accumulate charcoal deposits in the “pockets” between the teeth and gums, thereby causing discolouration – which is the opposite of what it purports to do.
A study published in the American Dental Association study found insufficient clinical and laboratory data to support the safety or effectiveness of charcoal whitening products.
Having analysed more than 100 articles on charcoal and charcoal-based toothpastes and powders, the study advised as such: “Dental clinicians should advise their patients to be cautious when using charcoal and charcoal-based dentifrices with unproven claims of efficacy and safety.”
Potential side effects of charcoal whitening
Brushing your teeth with activated charcoal has been associated with the following risks:
Damage your teeth structure: As mentioned, the abrasive nature of activated charcoal can wear down the protective enamel layer of your teeth. The impaired enamel will obviously provide less protection for the inner dentine structure, which has a yellow shade. Not only do you risk weakening your tooth structure by brushing with activated charcoal toothpaste, it may expose the dentin layer and make your teeth less white as a result.
Increase teeth sensitivity: Any type of abrasive brushing is not suitable for those with sensitive teeth and receding gums.
Deactivates fluoride: Due to its absorptive characteristic, active charcoal whiteners can negate the positive effects of agents that help remove plaque or agents that help the enamel resists decay. Active charcoal whitening products may reduce the teeth-enriching effects of fluoride, which is found in many toothpastes.
Increases teeth sensitivity: Long-term use of activated charcoal can deplete the tooth enamel, putting you at a higher risk for cavities, tooth discoloration, and gum disease in the future.
It’s important to emphasize that once tooth enamel is damaged, it is permanent because it cannot replenish itself. Before you begin any DIY whitening with activated charcoal, please consult your dentist to make sure your teeth will not be irreparably harmed.
Interested in a safe, evidence-based path to a brighter smile? A Canberra dentist can help.
DentistCanberra.com.au is your online information kiosk on Canberra dental matters.