Can Charcoal Brighten Your Smile?

Can Charcoal Brighten Your Smile?

If you haven’t caught on to the latest teeth whitening craze, we’ll fill you in. It involves
brushing your teeth with... wait for it, charcoal! Not the briquettes you use to barbecue, but a substance specially processed to adsorb unwanted things, such as tooth stains. You can purchase a bottle of activated charcoal at your local supplement shop. Bring it home, break open a capsule, dip your toothbrush in, and brush the material all over those pearly whites until your mouth is caked in soot. After you’re done pulling a prank on your kids or posting pictures on social media, swish with water and voila! Whiter teeth. Have you heard about this?

How it works

Here’s the idea: activated charcoal is processed in such a way to make it a great adsorbing agent. That’s right – different than “absorbing.” Adsorbing is when a substance attracts another substance to its surface. A typical use of activated charcoal is in treating poisoning or overdoses. Hospitals and ambulances have some on hand to administer orally to people who have swallowed a dangerous substance, so that the charcoal can bind to it and prevent the body from absorbing it. Activated charcoal is also used in water filtration systems to remove impurities from your drinking water. Now, it doesn’t bind to just anything. And please don’t go experimenting with swallowing it. In general it’s a harmless substance if swallowed, BUT it can bind to things you want to give your body, like vitamins or necessary prescription drugs. Also it can make your stools, well, black.

Now, activated charcoal appeared in the blogosphere a couple years ago as a natural tooth-whitening agent. If you’ve ever tried to whiten your teeth with baking soda, the idea is similar. Mix activated charcoal powder and water, put the paste on your toothbrush, and brush the stains away. The powder itself is tasteless, so it’s definitely not the same as chewing barbecue charcoal (please don’t try that), but nonetheless we have to ask, is it safe for your teeth?

Should you try it?

Here’s where the rubber meets the road: the technique may work temporarily to remove surface stains, but because it’s such a new phenomenon, there aren’t studies out there that show it doesn’t harm your teeth. We don’t know how abrasive activated charcoal is for your tooth enamel, and that’s something you don’t want to mess with. When your enamel erodes, your teeth are vulnerable to a cascade of decay, which isn’t fun for anyone.

If you’re looking for a safe way to whiten your teeth, bring it up at your next dental visit. There are lots of options that have been on the market for a long time and are safe for your family. You can also try some strategies to prevent tooth stains. For example, if you’re a coffee drinker, sip your Joe through a straw to prevent coffee from interacting with your teeth. Or, you could skip coffee altogether, but we’d never make you do that :-)

So…now you know! There are even more ways activated charcoal is being used these days that are safer than brushing your teeth with. Slather on some charcoal deodorant, do a fun face mask, buy some yummy smelling soaps. Just be wary of anything that says it can work miracles or bring about world peace, because that’s probably just not true.