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Charcoal Teeth Whitening (What the Science Says)

Jennifer Huizen Headshot
Written by
Jennifer Huizen
Medically Reviewed by 
Dr. Nandita Lilly
15 Sources Cited

What is Activated Charcoal?

Activated charcoal is a black powder made from carbon-based materials. It is made by removing volatile compounds and water from ashes. This type of charcoal is processed differently than the charcoal you grill with or burn for heat. 

To activate charcoal, it is exposed to high temperatures and gas to make it more porous. Being porous means a compound has several internal holes, or pores. These tiny pores trap or absorb chemicals and toxins.

Several countries have a long tradition of using charcoal for oral hygiene.1 Hippocrates, an ancient Greek physician, first documented the use of charcoal for dental health in Ancient Greece.2 

Activated charcoal has a wide range of potential health and beauty benefits. Charcoal is eco-friendly, herbal, and naturally occurring. Promotions claim it is a tooth-whitening, oral detoxifying, antiseptic, antibacterial, and antifungal agent. More recently, it has become a popular, natural tooth-whitening remedy. 

Now, a wide variety of charcoal-based dentifrices and oral hygiene products are available. You can find activated charcoal in whitening:

  • Toothpastes
  • Mouthwashes and mouth rinses
  • Floss
  • Gels
  • Toothbrushes

A quick Internet search will reveal a wealth of studies exploring the whitening potential of activated charcoal. 

According to the American Dental Association (ADA), there is no reliable evidence that proves charcoal dental products result in whiter teeth. They might also be unsafe to use and even make teeth appear more yellow.3 Learn about the safest teeth whitening methods.

The Role of Charcoal in Oral Care Products

More research is necessary to understand the role of activated charcoal in oral hygiene products. 

Activated charcoal may also help remove toxins from the teeth and mouth due to its porous nature.

Products that support the use of activated charcoal for dental or oral health claim it can:

  • Remove surface stains, biofilm, and acidic plaque from the surface of teeth by physically rubbing them off (abrasion)
  • Freshen the breath by detoxifying saliva
  • Inhibit the growth of bacteria, fungi, and viruses via antimicrobial properties
  • Bleach the teeth by removing internal stains via detoxification
  • Reduce gum inflammation by detoxification 
  • Reduce the risk of cavities and tooth decay by removing biofilm and plaque using abrasion

Does Charcoal Actually Whiten Teeth?

Overall, the current evidence suggests activated charcoal is ineffective at tooth whitening.

According to a 2017 literature review, there’s not enough laboratory or clinical research to support the efficacy or safety of activated charcoal for dental health.4 

In a 2020 scientific review, the authors write that activated charcoal does not have a meaningful whitening effect.5 

Most studies exploring the potential of activated charcoal for teeth whitening evaluate charcoal-based toothpastes. But there is also not enough scientific evidence to support the oral health claims of charcoal-based mouthwashes.6

Is Charcoal Teeth Whitening Safe?

According to available research, activated charcoal may not be safe for use in dental hygiene. In a 2021 literature review, 55% of studies concerning activated charcoal for tooth whitening reported negative results.7

Activated charcoal may harm the teeth because of how abrasive it is. According to the ADA, charcoal is so rough that brushing with it may wear down enamel.3 Tooth enamel is the hard outer layer of teeth.

As enamel thins, it exposes dentin, which is made of softer, yellow tissue. Losing enamel can also make the teeth more sensitive and cause gum recession. Weakened enamel can also allow the teeth to lose more minerals.1

Activated Charcoal’s Opposite Effect

Using activated charcoal may also make the outer surface of the teeth rougher.1 More biofilm and stains tend to form on teeth with rough surfaces. And, biofilm increases the risk of periodontitis and cavities.8 

Fine charcoal particles can also get stuck in tiny cracks or holes in teeth. This creates the opposite effect to whitening, leaving behind tiny dark specks.9 

Activated charcoal based products, and other natural products, also tend not to contain fluoride. The ADA recommends always using toothpastes with fluoride to prevent cavities and tooth decay.10 

Alternative Teeth Whitening Options That Work 

Several over-the-counter (OTC) oral products can effectively whiten teeth without causing harm.  

Some OTC teeth whitening products use less abrasive compounds than charcoal to remove surface (extrinsic) stains. 

Many OTC teeth whitening products also use bleaching agents that create chemical reactions to change tooth color. The most common bleaching agents in OTC whitening products are hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide. You can also buy products that contain blue covarine, which can reduce tooth yellowness.11 

Effective OTC teeth whitening options include:

  • Whitening toothpastes, mouth rinses, and chewing gums
  • Whitening strips, gels, pens, and trays
  • Whitening LED kits (used with whitening gels or pastes)

For even more effective teeth whitening, you can get professional treatments, such as:

  • Professional whitening or power bleaching
  • Tooth polishing from a dentist or dental hygienist
  • Customized at-home whitening trays

Ways to Prevent Tooth Discoloration

Common tips to prevent staining include:

  • Limit drinking highly pigmented drinks like red wine, coffee, tea, and cola, or, use a straw while doing so
  • Rinse the mouth out after eating dark-colored foods 
  • Practice good oral hygiene and get regular dental care 

Summary

You may have heard that activated charcoal can help give you a whiter smile. But there isn’t enough research to support this claim. Using activated charcoal on the teeth may also damage or discolor them.  

According to Dr. Nandita Lilly, NewMouth’s in-house dentist, “charcoal has been used for centuries in many countries and claims to have antiseptic, antibacterial, and antifungal properties. However, there is insufficient scientific evidence to substantiate the cosmetic and health benefits of charcoal.”
Talk to a dentist about the best way to whiten your teeth. In some cases, at-home products may be effective. Look for whitening products that have the ADA Seal of Acceptance. In other cases, you might benefit from more intensive professional whitening treatments.

Last updated on May 6, 2022
15 Sources Cited
Last updated on May 6, 2022
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Machla, Foteini., et al. . “In vitro abrasivity and chemical properties of charcoal-containing dentifrices.” Biomaterial Investigations in Dentistry. 
  2. Ghajari, Masoud Fallahinejad. . “Abrasiveness and whitening effect of charcoal‑containing whitening toothpastes in permanent teeth.” Dental Research Journal.
  3. Mouth Health. “Natural Teeth Whitening: Facts vs. Fiction.”
  4. Brooks, John K., et al. . “Charcoal and charcoal-based dentifrices.” The Journal of the American Dental Association.
  5. Ruiz, Murilo Andrade., et al. . “Whitening effect of brushing with activated charcoal-based products on enamel: integrative review.” Research, Society and Development. 
  6. Brooks, John K., et al. . “Charcoal-based mouthwashes: a literature review.” British Dental Journal.
  7. Bauler, Laura D., et al. . “Charcoal-based dentifrices and powders: Analyses of product labels, Instagram engagement, and altmetrics.” Brazilian Dental Journal.
  8. Tufts Now. “Charcoal and White Teeth.
  9. Consumer Reports. “Activated Charcoal Isn't a Magic Health Bullet.
  10. Cleveland Clinic. “Should My Kids Use a ‘Natural’ Toothpaste.
  11. Tao D., et al. . “Tooth Whitening Evaluation of Blue Covarine Containing Toothpastes.” Journal of Dentistry.
  12. American Dental Association. “Tooth whitening.
  13. Sawai, Madhuri Alankar. “Tooth polishing: The current status.” Indian Society of Periodontology.
  14. Thakur, Abhilasha., et al. “Charcoal in Dentistry.” Wiley Online Library.
  15. Vural, Uzay Koc., et al. . “Effects of charcoal-based whitening toothpastes on human enamel in terms of color, surface roughness, and microhardness: an in vitro study.” Clinical Oral Investigations.
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