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What is Activated Charcoal?

Activated charcoal is an odorless black powder made of carbon-based compounds. These compounds have been heated or activated at high temperatures to create a porous substance. 

Charcoal has become a ‘detoxifying’ supplement of choice 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

Many studies also claim that charcoal is:5

  • Antiviral
  • Antibacterial
  • Antifungal
  • Detoxifying

Charcoal can be found in many different kinds of products, such as:

  • Whitening toothpaste
  • Whitening gels 
  • Mouthwashes 
  • Floss
  • Skin-care products
  • Detox drinks
  • Cocktails
  • Ice cream

Charcoal may help treat certain medical conditions. However, research is mixed about whether or not it's safe and effective to use on teeth. Charcoal has also not been studied enough. Some of the promised effects for detoxification may be misleading. 

What is Activated Charcoal Toothpaste?

Activated charcoal is a common trend in the oral health industry.

You can find this ingredient in certain oral care products, including toothpaste and mouthwashes. Activated charcoal in oral hygiene products may treat discolored teeth by removing surface stains, plaque, and tartar.

The charcoal in toothpaste and other oral health products is not the same as the charcoal used in a grill.

Both types of charcoal are made from materials such as coconut shells. However, they are produced differently.

Activated charcoal, found in whitening toothpaste, is exposed to a particular gas that allows it to develop large pores. This makes the charcoal more absorbent so that it can soak up other substances.

In addition to activated charcoal, many whitening toothpastes contain other ingredients like:

  • Baking soda
  • Coconut oil
  • Mint flavoring
  • Fluoride

Activated charcoal is most commonly found in natural oral care products. These products do not use chemicals or artificial flavorings. 

Does Charcoal Toothpaste Whiten Teeth?

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

The toxicity of charcoal-based oral care products has not been researched enough. Until studies come out, many dentists recommend avoiding charcoal whitening products altogether.

Is Activated Charcoal Toothpaste Safe?

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.

Is Activated Charcoal 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

Most activated charcoal products score between 70 and 90, depending on the brand.6

This shows that charcoal is not proven to be harmful, but it's also not proven to be beneficial. 

Alternative Teeth Whitening Products 

More effective whitening products on the market have been thoroughly tested, including peroxide-based gels.2

Peroxide has been proven to penetrate the tooth enamel and reach the discolored molecules inside of teeth.

The discolored teeth molecules interact with the whitening agent's oxygen molecules, gently lifting stains. 

The most effective teeth whitening gels contain an active ingredient like hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide.7, 8, 9

Whitening treatments containing blue covarine can also make teeth appear less yellow.9, 10 You can purchase these products over-the-counter or from your dentist. 

Professional teeth whitening is the best (and safest) option. These treatments are completed in person at your dentist's office.

During the appointment, your dentist will apply a quick-acting whitening gel to your teeth. They may or may not use a pre-filled tray and an LED light to speed up the process. 

Professional whitening only needs to be retouched every six months to a year. You’ll notice results almost instantly. However, these treatments are much more expensive than at-home whitening.

Many at-home whitening products contain peroxide-based active ingredients. These products include LED whitening kits and whitening strips.

You can purchase these products online for $200 or less. Note: at-home whitening requires more upkeep than professional whitening.

For best results, dentists recommend using products that are approved by the American Dental Association. You can find a list of the approved bleaching products here.

The Bottom Line

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

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 speak with your dentist about the most suitable whitening treatment for you.

Last updated on April 26, 2022
10 Sources Cited
Last updated on April 26, 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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