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Updated on August 11, 2022

Does Charcoal Toothpaste Work?

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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 kind of charcoal is processed differently than the charcoal you grill with or burn for heat. 

Charcoal is activated by exposing it to high temperatures and gas. This process makes it more porous. It has several small internal holes or pores that trap or absorb chemicals and toxins.

Charcoal has become a ‘detoxifying’ supplement among people who want to cleanse their bodies in recent years. Some claim charcoal can treat:

  • Hangovers
  • Digestive issues
  • Kidney problems
  • Discolored teeth
  • Bad breath

Activated Charcoal in Oral Care Products

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 an oral detoxifying, antiseptic, antibacterial, and antifungal agent. More recently, it has become a popular teeth whitening remedy. 

Charcoal can be found in many different oral care products, such as:

  • Whitening toothpaste
  • Whitening gels 
  • Mouthwashes 
  • Floss
  • Toothbrush heads

Note: Research is mixed about whether or not it's safe and effective to use on teeth. Some of the promised effects of detoxification may be misleading. 

toothbrush and charcoal toothpaste in a glass plate

Claimed Oral Health Benefits of Charcoal

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 Toothpaste Actually Work?

Studies have shown that charcoal can whiten teeth. However, it's not the most effective option.2, 3 There is also no clear definition of what it means to ‘detoxify the mouth.’ 

One study found that most of the charcoal-based toothpaste they tested claimed to have whitening effects. But only 46 percent of them could ‘detoxify’ teeth.3

Dr. Nandita Lilly, one of NewMouth’s in-house dentists, says, “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.”

Many dental professionals tend to agree with Dr. Lilly. Here's why:

1. Charcoal Might Cause Adverse Effects

The answers are mixed as to whether activated charcoal toothpaste is safe. Products with activated charcoal are often marketed as more effective than other oral care products recommended by dentists.

However, no evidence shows that activated charcoal is entirely safe to use in the mouth.2, 3, 5 

The Journal of the American Dental Association found that there is not enough evidence to support these claims. The researchers also discovered that activated charcoal might cause adverse outcomes. For example, an increased risk of tooth decay and enamel abrasion.5

Due to these findings, the authors advised dentists to warn patients about charcoal-based dental products.

2. Charcoal Is Too Abrasive

Some dentists are concerned about charcoal's abrasive properties. These properties may whiten teeth by removing a layer of tooth enamel.3, 5 

In dentistry, abrasive substances are those that are capable of removing healthy tooth structures.

Toothpastes are given a Relative Dentin Abrasivity (RDA) value. This value measures their abrasiveness. A value higher than 200 is considered abrasive and harmful to the teeth.6

Depending on the brand, most activated charcoal products score between 70 and 90.6 This shows that charcoal is not proven to be harmful but also not proven to be beneficial. 

Alternative Teeth Whitening Products 

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 containing blue covarine, which may help reduce yellowness.11 

Effective OTC teeth whitening options include:

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

Summary

Charcoal toothpaste is receiving a lot of attention and press. However, it isn't any more effective than other at-home whitening products.

Toothpaste with charcoal may help to remove stains. However, the long-term use of activated charcoal is still unknown due to limited research.

It's best to discuss the most suitable whitening treatment with your dentist.

10 Sources Cited
Last updated on August 11, 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. Zellner, Tobias, et al. “The Use of Activated Charcoal to Treat Intoxications.” Deutsches Arzteblatt International, Deutscher Arzte Verlag, 3 May 2019
  2. Epple, Matthias, et al. “A Critical Review of Modern Concepts for Teeth Whitening.” MDPI, Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute, 1 Aug. 2019
  3. Brooks, John, et al. “Charcoal and charcoal-based dentifrices.” The Journal of the American Dental Association, 1 Sept 2017
  4. Thakur, Abhilasha, et al. “Charcoal in Dentistry.” Wiley Online Library, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 27 Mar. 2020
  5. Brooks, John K., et al. “Charcoal and Charcoal-Based Dentifrices: A Literature Review.” The Journal of the American Dental Association, Elsevier, 7 June 2017
  6. Eimar, Hazem, et al. “Hydrogen Peroxide Whitens Teeth by Oxidizing the Organic Structure.” Journal of Dentistry, Elsevier, 24 Aug. 2012
  7. “What’s the Deal with Charcoal and Teeth: ASDA.", American Student Dental Association (ASDA)
  8. Basting, RT, et al. “Clinical Comparative Study of the Effectiveness of and Tooth Sensitivity to 10% and 20% Carbamide Peroxide Home-Use and 35% and 38% Hydrogen Peroxide In-Office Bleaching Materials Containing Desensitizing Agents.” Operative Dentistry, Allen Press, 1 Sept. 2012
  9. Tao D;Smith RN;Zhang Q;Sun JN;Philpotts CJ;Ricketts SR;Naeeni M;Joiner A; “Tooth Whitening Evaluation of Blue Covarine Containing Toothpastes.” Journal of Dentistry, U.S. National Library of Medicine
  10. “Is Whitening Toothpaste Worth the Extra Money?” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 24 Feb. 2021
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