Activated charcoal toothpaste: it doesn't whiten your teeth, it harms your enamel

We field tons of questions on charcoal toothpaste and other oral products. While it's not as bad as brushing your teeth with coal from your grill, it's not doing your teeth much good either.
Beautiful, white teeth have been in vogue for millenia. Archeologists discovered that ancient Greeks and Romans created toothpaste with crushed bones, oyster shells, tree bark, and charcoal. While we don't do many things from 2000+ years ago, there seems to be a resurgence in using charcoal in oral care.

The charcoal trend is in full swing and it seems like a new charcoal toothpaste, brush, or rinse is launched almost every day. Charcoal is gaining traction so much that even large, established players like Colgate have launched their own charcoal products. 

Even though lots of people are jumping on the modern charcoal bandwagon, our team of hygienists cringe at the charcoal fad. Why? Well, here's everything you need to know about those charcoal products flooding your Instagram ads.

What is "activated charcoal" in toothpastes and other oral care products?

The activated charcoal in your toothpaste, toothbrush, and other oral hygiene products is the same kind of charcoal in a water filter. It's "activated" by being processed at very high temperatures. The temperature is so high it actually changes the structure of the charcoal and increases its surface area. Sort of like popping 🍿 a kernel of corn. 

The larger surface area becomes more porous and also creates more contours that trap and absorb other particles. Then when the charcoal is washed away, those other particles wash away with the charcoal. Charcoal is great in water filters because it traps all kinds of particles floating in your water, resulting in a clean and crisp tasting water.

Activated charcoal works wonder for your drinking water. So how about your teeth?

The truth about charcoal whitening teeth is, well, it doesn't.

There is a ton of excitement over charcoal products and their ability to 💎whiten and 💎brighten teeth. Just brush your teeth with charcoal toothpaste and toothbrush and out comes a brilliant smile? It seems too good to be true! 

Well that's because it is. 

The Journal of the American Dental Association says that there isn't any evidence that charcoal is effective at whitening teeth. Several studies reveal activated charcoal-based products that were claimed as naturally whitening were ineffective at changing the color of the teeth. One author bluntly puts it: "Charcoal based-powders are not effective for dental bleaching."

Is it even safe to use charcoal-based products on my teeth?

Charcoal-based products claim to whiten teeth because they remove surface stains. How? By being abrasive and scrubbing the surface of your teeth. While that might sound pretty good, the bad news is it's also scraping away the surface of your enamel:

"Activated charcoal-based products work by scraping stain from your enamel and multiple studies indicate that there is then a change in the surface structure of the enamel. That means the charcoal is scratching the enamel, creating unwanted microscopic grooves where bacteria gets trapped, causing more erosion and trapping stain on the teeth,"
says Sarah Clark, RDH.

Over time using charcoal-based products could actually have the opposite effect and turn your teeth yellow. That's because scraping the tooth weakens your enamel. Thin enamel allows the yellow, inside layer of your tooth (the dentin)to show through. 

And our hygienists caution to stay away from powdered charcoal. It is not only abrasive, the tiny powder particles get cough under the gums which leads to irritation and inflammation of the gums.

I've been using charcoal toothpaste for a few weeks 😱 did I cause permanent damage to my teeth?

After one month of consistently using charcoal toothpaste, tooth surfaces can become significantly rougher. That rougher texture means damaged enamel which leads to discoloration, as well as increasing your risk for tooth sensitivity and decay.

The best thing to do is stop using the charcoal products, and get to work rebuilding a strong foundation for your teeth. The best way is to match the right daily products and routine to your mouth. Tailoring your products to your pH and buffering capacity allows you to remineralize more effectively so you can have strong, healthy teeth that are ready for a proper whitening treatment.

If you're looking for tailored products for a beautiful (and healthy) smile, try your first month of custom oral care for free with Wally.


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