There’s a new trend in tooth whitening that has lit up the blogosphere with fervor: activated charcoal toothpaste. Just perform a search on YouTube and you will behold numerous videos displaying enthusiastic participants frothing black foam from their mouths as they presumably brighten their smiles. Such videos have attracted literally hundreds of thousands of views. In fact, I watched one video that has been viewed 2.5 million times!
The popularity of do-it-yourself health and beauty aids bolstered by social media has created an expanding marketplace for all types of natural “alternatives” to traditional care, including activated charcoal products to whiten teeth.
So, what is activated charcoal and can it really whiten your teeth? Well, here it is, folks, in black and white!
What Is Activated Charcoal?
A brief description from Web MD puts it this way, “Charcoal is made from coal, wood, or other substances. It becomes “activated charcoal” when high temperatures combine with a gas or activating agent to expand its surface area.”
Such activation changes the physical and chemical properties of charcoal (and I’m not talking about barbeque briquettes, here) to make it more porous and to confer upon it, on a molecular level, a negative electrical charge. Magnetically speaking, something with a negative electric charge will attract something else with a positive electric charge.
As it turns out, many of the chemicals that stain your teeth, such as the tannins found in red wine, coffee, and tea, as well as pesky dental plaque have positive charges. Ergo (at least in theory), activated charcoal with its enhanced surface area and negative polarity, attracts and binds to the stain-producing molecules that discolor teeth and smite an otherwise lovely smile. Despite its dingy color.
Activated charcoal, if used judiciously, can reduce superficial surface stains that mar a pretty smile.
But Here’s The Rub
But here’s the rub (both literally and figuratively): charcoal can be very abrasive to the delicate structure of your teeth. Over time, it can actually make your teeth more yellow – especially when used improperly. The harder you rub and scrub, the more of your tooth enamel can be worn away. As tooth enamel is worn away, more of the underlying material (dentin) becomes exposed. And dentin is yellow!
So, back to the question: can toothpaste that contains activated charcoal actually whiten yellow teeth? In a word – NO! Activated charcoal can help remove superficial stains from the surfaces of your teeth, but it cannot change the color of your teeth.
How To Get Whiter Teeth Without Charcoal
To accomplish true tooth whitening, I suggest you try more conventional (and time-tested) methods. Home whitening kits like Crest White Strips, in-office dental bleaching treatments, and home bleaching kits supplied by your dentist are a much wiser choice for effective and safe teeth whitening.
If you decide to give activated charcoal a try, remember this:
Too much of a perceived good thing can have the opposite intended effect. Be gentle and use a soft toothbrush. Remember: when you brush your teeth you are not scouring the bathroom tile. Lightly apply with feather-like strokes for approximately two minutes. Rinse thoroughly several times to remove the black sludge. And do not perform this ritual more than one or two times per week.
Note: if you have gum recession and exposed root surfaces you must be extra cautious lest you worsen your condition.
In summary, activated charcoal toothpaste can reduce the stains on your teeth but it cannot change the intrinsic color of your teeth. Activated charcoal paste can be more abrasive than conventional whitening toothpaste and, in fact, can cause physical harm to your not so pearly whites and leave them yellow and very sensitive. Yellow teeth devoid of stains are still…yellow.
Dr. Michael Sinkin is a dentist in Manhattan. He is known throughout the city for the wonderful care he provides and for his wicked sense of humor. To learn more about Dr. Sinkin, link here.