Activated charcoal is an odorless black powder made of carbon-based compounds (e.g., coconut shells or sawdust) that have been heated (or activated) at high temperatures to create a porous substance.
Activated charcoal is most commonly used in emergency treatment of specific kinds of poisoning. It may prevent the poison from being absorbed into the body from the stomach.
However, it is not proven to effectively treat cases of poisoning from alcohols, acids or bases, inorganic salts, organic solvents, or metals. There are also no valid guidelines that outline how to administer activated charcoal in medical settings properly.1
The substance has been around for many years to treat overdoses and poisonings. In recent years, though, it has become a ‘detoxifying’ supplement of choice among healthy people who want to cleanse their bodies. Some claim charcoal can treat hangovers, digestive issues, kidney problems, and even discolored teeth.
Charcoal can be found in many different kinds of products, such as:
Although charcoal may serve a purpose in treating certain medical conditions, research is mixed about whether it is safe and effective to use on your teeth. Charcoal has also not been studied enough, and some of its promised effects for detoxification may be misleading.
Activated charcoal is a common trend in the oral health industry. You can find this ingredient in certain toothpastes, mouthwashes, whitening kits, and even string floss. It also comes in the form of powders and tablets.
The charcoal in toothpaste and other oral health products is not the same as the charcoal used in a grill. Although both types of charcoal are made from coconut shells, wood, or peat (among others), they are produced differently.
Activated charcoal, which is what you’ll find in whitening toothpastes, 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 products contain other ingredients like baking soda, coconut oil, mint flavors, and sometimes fluoride. Activated charcoal is most commonly found in natural oral care products that do not use chemicals or artificial flavorings.
The answers are mixed.
For example, many companies claim that activated charcoal can help remove surface stains, plaque, tartar, and freshen bad breath (detoxify), which all aid in good dental health.4
These products are often marketed as being more effective than other dental care products recommended by dentists. Many also claim that charcoal has antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and detoxification properties.5
However, no evidence shows that activated charcoal is entirely safe to use in the mouth.2, 3, 5
Also, 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, including 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.
Some dentists are concerned about charcoal's abrasive properties, which 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 structure.
Toothpastes are given a Relative Dentin Abrasivity (RDA) value, which measures their abrasiveness. In general, 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 is also not proven to be beneficial.
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Studies have shown that charcoal can whiten teeth, but it is not the most effective option.2, 3 There is also no clear definition of what it means to ‘detoxify the mouth.’
For example, one study found that most of the charcoal-based toothpastes they tested claimed to have whitening effects. But only 46 percent of them were able to ‘detoxify’ teeth.3
Also, the toxicity of charcoal-based oral care products has not been researched enough. Until studies come out, dentists recommend avoiding charcoal whitening products altogether.
More effective whitening products on the market have been thoroughly tested, including peroxide-based gels.2 Peroxide has been proven to penetrate 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.
Based on research, 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, including LED whitening kits and whitening strips, contain peroxide-based active ingredients. 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.
Read NewMouth's reviews of the Top Teeth Whitening Products of 2021
(1) Zellner, Tobias, et al. “The Use of Activated Charcoal to Treat Intoxications.” Deutsches Arzteblatt International, Deutscher Arzte Verlag, 3 May 2019, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6620762/.
(2) Epple, Matthias, et al. “A Critical Review of Modern Concepts for Teeth Whitening.” MDPI, Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute, 1 Aug. 2019, www.mdpi.com/2304-6767/7/3/79/htm.
(3) Brooks, John, et al. “Charcoal and charcoal-based dentifrices.” The Journal of the American Dental Association, 1 Sept 2017, jada.ada.org/article/S0002-8177(17)30412-9/fulltext.
(4) Thakur, Abhilasha, et al. “Charcoal in Dentistry.” Wiley Online Library, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 27 Mar. 2020, onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/9781119618973.ch13.
(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, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0002817717304129.
(6) Eimar, Hazem, et al. “Hydrogen Peroxide Whitens Teeth by Oxidizing the Organic Structure.” Journal of Dentistry, Elsevier, 24 Aug. 2012. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22925924/.
(7) “What’s the Deal with Charcoal and Teeth: ASDA.” ASDA_W_letters, www.asdanet.org/utility-navigation/Publications/E-newsletters/The-Polished-Predental/what-s-the-deal-with-charcoal-and-teeth.
(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. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22616927/.
(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, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29233260/.
(10) “Is Whitening Toothpaste Worth the Extra Money?” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 24 Feb. 2021, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/expert-answers/whitening-toothpaste/faq-20058411.