At Pennino Family Dentistry in Barrington, IL, people frequently ask about activated charcoal toothpaste. This patient education article answers those questions.
Activated charcoal is a fine black powder made from charred bones, coconut shells, peat, petroleum coke, coal, olive pits or sawdust that’s been heated to extremely high temperatures to change its structure. It is NOT charcoal that you use in your grill. That charcoal contains toxins.
Activated charcoal is used to remove some toxic chemicals in the gut. Emergency rooms use it when someone has accidentally ingested poison or chemicals. It can remove toxins because of its large surface area and because it has a negative electrical charge that can bind positively charged molecules or chemicals. (Remember high school chemistry?) The sooner it is taken after a poisoning the more effective it is.
Some proponents of the activated charcoal toothpaste claim that it can reduce cavities by altering the mouth's pH level. However, most people want to use it because of its supposed whitening ability.
Some staining elements such as coffee, tea, colas, and wine may bind to the charcoal, removing surface stains. However, scientific research does not support this idea (one study that wasn’t performed on a living organism [“test tube” study] found it had some whitening capability).
At Pennino Family Dentistry, we have some definite concerns about activated charcoal toothpaste.
First, it’s abrasive. It can damage your tooth enamel. When your tooth enamel is eroded, the next layer of your teeth, your dentin layer is expose. Dentin is darker than your enamel. Therefore, your teeth will actually appear darker and more yellow. Certainly, not what you’re going for.
Second, the activated charcoal powder (more so than the paste) is irritating to some people. It may leave gums and teeth feeling sensitive.
It may stain these materials. Further, if it whitens your natural teeth, your porcelain veneer or crown will no longer be the same color as your teeth.
Again, activated charcoal toothpaste is very abrasive. If you must, use a brush with soft bristles and be gentle.
It’s important to protect your tooth enamel. If you do use activated charcoal, use the paste rather than the powder. Furthermore, limit your use to once every week or two. Also, use a soft-bristled brush and brush gently. You may also apply the paste to your teeth, and let it sit for 10 minutes. Then rinse it off. This may reduce the damage to your tooth enamel.
We’re happy to discuss the pros and cons of various whitening options. We’ll recommend the best options for your situation.