Investigating Dental Trends: Charcoal Whitening
There are all kinds of advertisements and tutorial videos on social media promoting the supposed benefits of whitening one’s teeth with activated charcoal. So, does it live up to the hype?
Activated charcoal is a carbon-dense material that is highly absorbent due to treating (“activating”) it with high temperatures or chemicals. It is most commonly used to treat certain types of poisoning or overdoses as it can absorb the material that was ingested. Side effects of ingesting it include vomiting, diarrhea, gastrointestinal damage, black tongue and can interact with certain medications.
The idea is that the activated charcoal will do its same absorbing wonders on your teeth to make them white. Some people are using activated charcoal in powder form as a short-term whitening agent, brushed on for several minutes and repeated over the course of a few days. Others are using toothpastes with activated charcoal intended for long term use. But does it actually work? Activated charcoal is highly abrasive and that serves to polish the stains off the teeth. The safety and efficacy of activated charcoal has not been proven by the American Dental Association. Some will argue in favor of activated charcoal because it is “natural” and because there are some toothpastes on the market that are just as abrasive, if not more abrasive, than activated charcoal. Just because there are toothpastes available that are that abrasive, doesn’t mean you should use those either. Highly abrasive toothpastes will slowly remove microscopic layers of enamel over time. Once enamel is gone, it’s gone. There is no getting it back. If enough enamel is removed over time, it can expose the underlying dentin which can lead to sensitivity, yellower teeth (yes, yellower because dentin is yellow in color compared to enamel), and increased rate of cavities. If one is wanting to go the “natural” route, there are toothpastes on the market that are “natural”, but you want to make sure it contains fluoride to help protect your teeth. Another concern with activated charcoal as a toothpaste and/or whitening agent is that if small amounts are accidentally ingested, it could potentially interact with medications one is taking.
To achieve the effects of whitening, it is best to stick with what is tested and proven to work. Hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide whitening products (either in-office treatments, take home custom trays from the office, or OTC strips) are highly effective at whitening teeth. Whitening toothpastes, mouthwashes, floss, or whatever else you see out there advertised as “whitening” is mostly just marketing hype. None of those products typically touch the teeth long enough to be effective but they advertise it as such because almost everyone wants whiter teeth, so it sells. Or the product may be highly abrasive to be “whitening”, which as we just discussed isn’t good either. Many people are concerned that whitening with hydrogen or carbamide peroxide products will be bad for their enamel. When used as directed, these products are completely safe for enamel. Side effects include tooth sensitivity or gum irritation if some of the whitening agent gets on the gums. These symptoms will go away in a few days. If gum irritation occurs, next time try to use less product and place it on the teeth more carefully, trying to avoid contact with the gums. If sensitivity occurs, you can take days off in between whitening to minimize it, wear it for shorter periods of time, and/or use a desensitizing toothpaste.
As always, if you have any questions regarding activated charcoal, toothpaste, or whitening, don’t hesitate to ask us!
Written by: Anna Hautzenrader, RDH