In 1834, an American physician used activated charcoal to save the life of a patient who accidentally ingested mercury chloride. Since then, many safe and effective uses of the substance have been discovered, including using it to brush your teeth.
In the past decade teeth whitening has become a global industry. From dental office bleaching treatments to DIY home remedies, the perfect white smile is well sought after.
Last year the Oral Health Foundation in the U.K. issued a statement warning people that the whitening effects of activated charcoal may be overblown, and brushing with it may actually put your teeth at risk.
Activated charcoal toothpastes are a rebirth of ancient medicine techniques. In theory, [it] binds to everything in its path--stains, tartar, bacteria, viruses (and maybe even your tonsils)," explains cosmetic dentist Peter Auster. All of which sounds ideal in a tooth cleanser, but not everyone is sold on the idea.
Activated charcoal is simply common charcoal--made from peat, coal, wood, coconut shell, or petroleum--that is heated along with a gas, which makes the charcoal more porous. This helps activated charcoal "trap" chemicals, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. That's one reason why it's likely effective for its standard medical use, which is for treatment of poisoning.
What Is The Function Within Toothpaste?
Companies that make activated charcoal toothpaste also claim that the activated charcoal can remove toxins from the teeth and gums, which can lift stains from your teeth and leave you with a whiter smile.
"Many of these products are overly abrasive and can take away the outer layer of your tooth called the enamel," said Aikaterini Papathanasiou, director of the Advanced Education in Esthetic and Operative Dentistry program at the Tufts School of Dental Medicine. "That abrasion could create sensitivity, expose the darker dentin underneath, and create a rough tooth surface that can absorb more stains--the exact opposite of what you're trying to do."
Papathanasiou claims there is no scientific evidence that shows that these products are safe or effective for your teeth. There was a review published in the Journal of the American Dental Association in late 2017 that concluded that we need clinical trials and lab studies to determine if it's safe and effective.
Since teeth do not regrow or replenish, using a substance that could potentially wear down the enamel may be detrimental. So it's important to find a good charcoal toothpaste that isn't too abrasive.
The whitening ability of charcoal exists in its porosity, while the trouble resides in its abrasiveness.
Relative Dentin Abrasivity (RDA) is a guide to measure abrasiveness for all FDA approved dental products and the FDA recommends a score of 200 or below.
Activated charcoal powder scores about a 70 to 90 on the RDA scale while most whitening toothpastes score between 100 to 200 RDA.
Always check the abrasiveness of activated charcoal toothpaste.
Research from the Journal of Physics: Conference Series found that brushing with activated charcoal increases the roughness of tooth enamel, which can make it easier for bacteria to stick to the surface. That can put you at risk of greater plaque accumulation, more cavities, and even periodontal disease.
And a review from the Journal of the American Dental Association published earlier this year concluded that dentists should "advise their patients to be cautious" when using these products due to "unproven claims of efficacy and safety."
Use in Moderation
Abrasion of the teeth is when the enamel and dentin wear away over time due to abnormal process. When performing oral hygiene at home, avoid abrasion from applying too much force when brushing, using hard bristled toothbrushes and foreign substances.
Once the soften dentin in your teeth is exposed, abrasion happens at a faster rate and your oral health is more readily compromised. Protecting the tooth enamel helps maintain a healthy smile and lowers your risk for disease.
When it comes to activated charcoal for teeth whitening, discretion is advised.