At home DIY whitening has become very popular over the last year. There are many different Do-It-Yourself products that have been suggested, but I’m going to focus on the one that’s gone viral; Charcoal Whitening. Activated Charcoal is being advertised to remove the stain, toxins and bacteria from your teeth leaving them whiter as a result. Why do people whiten their teeth? Teeth become discolored over time do to natural discoloration from coffee, tea, smoking, red wine, aging, poor diet, some supplements, breathing through your mouth, and continuous dry mouth. Stain is intrinsic, extrinsic, or both and it’s important to remember that restorative work such a crowns and veneers will not change with whitening.
What is Activated Charcoal? Charcoal is made from wood, coal, or other substances and it becomes activated once high temperatures are combined with a gas or activating agent to expand its surface area (1). It then turns into a porous material that removes impurities from the surfaces around it and leaves the area clean. So, how does it whiten your teeth? The crushed charcoal powder that you apply to your wet toothbrush is gently brushed onto your teeth, and then you let it set for about 3 minutes. The charcoal sticks to the rough surfaces on your teeth, such as surface stains and plaque, which get removed when you rinse the charcoal off. Make sure you thoroughly rinse before brushing your teeth again. Activated Charcoal only removes surface stains, it will not change teeth that are deeply stained or naturally yellowing, more advanced professional whitening needs to be done for that.
The big question is, is it safe? We know it is safe for ingesting, as it has been used since the early 1990’s as a treatment for poisoning and overdoses. In relation to Activated Charcoal being used as a dental product, there have been very limited studies that show the long term effects of what it will do to your teeth or overall health over a long period of time. If you choose to use this product, please use it cautiously, and be sure to lightly graze teeth when applying, do not scrub. An alternate option to pure Activated Charcoal which appears to be safe is, Black is White toothpaste by Curaprox Inc. This toothpaste uses activated carbon to remove stain and whiten teeth; it contains 950-ppm fluoride and nanohydroxyapatite (nHA) (1). This is important because the Flouride and nHA particles get deposited onto demineralized enamel surfaces when brushing. These particles remineralize the enamel keeping teeth stronger, decrease risk of thinning enamel, sensitivity, and decay.
According to YouTube and many responses to online articles, many people have appeared to get great results from Activated Charcoal Whitening, while others had very little results or suffered from extreme sensitivity. This DIY product is still new and The American Dental Association stated “There is no evidence that shows dental products with charcoal are safe or effective for your teeth, according to the September 2017 issue of the Journal of the American Dental Association.” (2) If you choose to try Activated Charcoal as a DIY whitening remedy, I would encourage you to only use for a short period of time as needed and not as everyday toothpaste.
It’s important to remember that although we all want whiter teeth, whitening products are abrasive and do break down the enamel on our teeth which does not repair itself like other parts of our body, once enamel is gone, it’s gone. If enamel gets too thin, teeth are more susceptible to breaking, decay or have a more grey appearance. If you decide to whiten your teeth, I would encourage you to discuss with your dentist before you start, and stop if you experience any discomfort or sensitivity.