Beautiful, white teeth have been in vogue for millenia. Archeologists discovered that ancient Greeks and Romans created toothpaste with crushed bones, oyster shells, tree bark, and charcoal. While we don't do many things from 2000+ years ago, there seems to be a resurgence in using charcoal in oral care.
The charcoal trend is in full swing and it seems like a new charcoal toothpaste, powder, or rinse is launched almost every day. Charcoal is gaining traction so much that even large, established players like Colgate have launched their own charcoal toothpastes.
Even though lots of people are jumping on the modern charcoal bandwagon, our team of hygienists cringe at the charcoal fad. Why? Well, here's everything you need to know about those charcoal toothpastes and powders flooding your Instagram ads.
Charcoal tooth and gum powder … Wait, what is "activated charcoal?"
The activated charcoal in your toothpaste is the same kind of charcoal in a water filter. It's "activated" by being processed at very high temperatures. The temperature is so high it actually changes the structure of the charcoal and increases its surface area. Sort of like popping 🍿 a kernel of corn.
The larger surface area becomes more porous and also creates more contours that trap and absorb other particles. Then when the charcoal is washed away, those other particles wash away with the charcoal. Charcoal is great in water filters because it traps all kinds of particles floating in your water, resulting in a clean and crisp tasting water.
Activated charcoal works wonders for your drinking water. So how about your teeth?
Charcoal teeth whitening doesn't actually whiten your teeth
There is a ton of excitement over charcoal products and their ability to 💎whiten and 💎brighten teeth. Just brush your teeth with charcoal toothpaste and out comes a brilliant smile? It seems too good to be true!
Well that's because it is.
The Journal of the American Dental Association says that there isn't any evidence that charcoal is effective at whitening teeth. Several studies reveal activated charcoal-based toothpastes that were claimed as naturally whitening were ineffective at changing the color of the teeth. One author bluntly puts it: "Charcoal based-powders are not effective for dental bleaching."
Is charcoal toothpaste safe?
Charcoal toothpaste doesn't whiten, it removes surface stains by being abrasive and scrubbing the surface of your teeth. While that might sound pretty good, the bad news is it's also scraping away the surface of your enamel:
"Activated charcoal-based products work by scraping stain from your enamel and multiple studies indicate that there is then a change in the surface structure of the enamel. That means the charcoal is scratching the enamel, creating unwanted microscopic grooves where bacteria gets trapped, causing more erosion and trapping stain on the teeth,"
says Sarah Clark, RDH.
Over time using charcoal-based toothpaste could actually have the opposite effect and turn your teeth yellow. That's because scraping the tooth weakens your enamel. Thin enamel allows the yellow, inside layer of your tooth (the dentin) to show through.
And our hygienists caution us to stay away from powdered charcoal in toothpastes and gum powders. It is not only abrasive, the tiny powder particles get caught under the gums which leads to irritation and inflammation of the gums.
I've been using charcoal toothpaste 😱 did I cause permanent damage to my teeth?
After one month of consistently using charcoal toothpaste, tooth surfaces can become significantly rougher. That rougher texture means damaged enamel which leads to discoloration, as well as increasing your risk for tooth sensitivity and decay.
The best thing to do is stop using the charcoal toothpaste, and rebuild a strong foundation for your teeth. Building a healthy foundation starts with understanding the nuances of your mouth and using the right products and routine. If you're interested in building a healthy foundation with guidance from a personal hygienist, get your free starter kit which includes an at-home saliva test and samples of our favorite products.