Does charcoal teeth whitening work, and is it safe?
We all want a brighter, whiter smile, but what’s the best way to achieve that goal? Charcoal teeth whitening toothpaste and powders have become increasingly popular in recent times, but are they actually safe?
In this article, we take a look at the origins and science behind charcoal toothpaste and share some advice for those looking to whiten their teeth.
Why ‘activated charcoal’?
You may be surprised to discover that people were using charcoal for oral hygiene purposes all the way back to the times of ancient Greece (Greenwall et al., 2019). Throughout the centuries, charcoal, soot and coal ash were applied to teeth via fingers, chew sticks, cloths and eventually toothbrushes.
Nowadays, charcoal toothpaste and powders are readily available, boasting promises of stain removal and teeth whitening, remineralisation, tooth strengthening, antibacterial properties and antifungal effects (Greenwall et al., 2019).
To add weight to their popularity, celebrities have jumped on the bandwagon, endorsing their use on social media channels. With so much hype surrounding charcoal teeth whitening products, they must work, right? Not necessarily.
What the science says
A literature review by Brooks et al., published in 2017, found ‘insufficient scientific evidence to substantiate the cosmetic, health benefits (antibacterial, antifungal, or antiviral; reduced caries; tooth whitening; oral detoxification), or safety claims’ of charcoal-based toothpaste. The review looked at 118 articles before reaching that conclusion.
The researchers urged dentists to enlighten patients about the lack of evidence surrounding these products. They also noted that using charcoal toothpaste which did not contain fluoride (only 8% of the toothpaste studied contained fluoride) could also lead to oral health risks.
In summarising the 2017 findings, Greenwall et al. noted:
- Only 10% of products included some form of dental professional endorsement.
- Generally, there was a lack of supporting scientific data surrounding many of the claimed benefits of charcoal toothpaste.
- There were concerns surrounding the marketing surrounding charcoal-based oral products, given the lack of substantive evidence.
- There was insufficient evidence to support teeth whitening claims.
Is charcoal toothpaste abrasive?
It depends on the formulation of the charcoal, but some charcoal oral hygiene products have been found to be highly abrasive. The worry is that these products can negatively impact the tooth surface and lead to hypersensitivity – which may be irreversible (Greenwall et al., 2019).
Does charcoal toothpaste help bad breath?
While your mouth may feel fresh and clean after brushing with charcoal toothpaste, the truth is charcoal does not stop bad breath or halitosis. In fact, because it’s so absorptive, the charcoal may actually limit the effects of flavourings and other ingredients in the toothpaste that are designed to combat mouth odour.
Don’t use charcoal-based toothpaste or powders, which could compromise your tooth enamel and the integrity of your teeth. Instead, seek professional advice about teeth whitening
Remember, over-the-counter dental products that claim to whiten teeth may remove surface stains, but they do not typically change the colour of the tooth. To do this, you’ll need professional teeth whitening and bleaching.
Brooks, J., Bashirelahi, N. and Reynolds, M. (2017). Charcoal and charcoal-based dentifrices: A literature review. – PubMed – NCBI. [online] Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28599961 [Accessed 9 Dec. 2019].
Greenwall, L., Greenwall-Cohen, J. and Wilson, N. (2019). Charcoal-containing dentifrices. [online] Research Gate. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/333011406_Charcoal-containing_dentifrices [Accessed 9 Dec. 2019].