Activated Charcoal Toothpaste - Whitening Efficacy and Safety
Recently, many natural charcoal toothpastes have become popular with claims that they whiten teeth and improve bad breath. Viral social media visuals of black toothpaste sharply contrasted to whitened teeth have contributed to their popularity.
We want to caution you that these trends often lack science-based evidence and we are here to provide guidance, as dental professionals, so you can make an informed decision.
Activated charcoal definitely has benefits in dental products, but only when used carefully.
Activated charcoal can:
- Remove stains as a physical abrasive. Brushing with activated charcoal particles helps remove surface stains, bacteria, and tartar and effectively cleans your mouth and teeth.
- Help improve bad breath (halitosis). Similar to alkaline 9x baked bamboo salt in OJOOK toothpaste, studies say activated charcoal helps neutralize acidic compounds that cause bad breath.
However, the oral health risks may outweigh the benefits mentioned above, especially when there are more effective and safer alternatives
When you look at activated charcoal powders under a microscope, the particles are very phosphorus, have sharp edges, and come in irregular sizes and shapes. These characteristics can cause enamel and gum damage as well as tooth sensitivity and more with mid to long-term use.
Activated charcoal may:
- Wear down enamel. Activated charcoal toothpastes have a very abrasive and gritty texture, which has a high potential to scratch and erode enamel. Unfortunately, once your tooth enamel is removed, there is no way to restore it naturally. With prolonged use, charcoal can erode enamel and leave your teeth unprotected, leading to more severe issues like cavities and gum disease.
- Have no proven long-term tooth-whitening effects. The appeal of a drastic visible change when you brush your teeth with black toothpastes can be very satisfying. And, in short-term use, aggressive abrasives will remove extrinsic stains more effectively and leave your teeth whiter. However, it is important to know that charcoal toothpaste will not work on intrinsic stains. In addition, enamel erosion is caused with regular use of charcoal toothpaste, making your teeth look dull and more yellowish due to the exposure of the yellow dentin layer under the enamel.
- Increase risk of tooth decay. Charcoal toothpastes are branded and marketed as natural toothpastes, so most are formulated without remineralizing ingredients to prevent cavities, such as fluoride or nano-hydroxyapatite. The enamel is scratched and thinned with no means of restoration and creates a higher risk for cavities.
- Cause gum irritation and mouth inflammation. Charcoal’s irregular and sharp particles can cause micro tearing in soft gum tissues and cause irritation and mouth sores. Charcoal deposits in “pockets” between the teeth and gums may accumulate and worsen symptoms, especially for patients with pre-existing periodontal diseases. It’s best to avoid aggressive and unnecessary substances when you have ulcers, cuts, or abrasions in your mouth that could become further irritated.
- Contribute to tooth sensitivity. Above mentioned enamel erosion and gum inflammation can lead to exposed nerves in dentin and gum lines and cause mild to severe tooth sensitivity. There are multiple causes for tooth sensitivity but if you start having sensitivity to cold or hot water after you begin using charcoal toothpaste, stop using it, consult with your dentist, and go back to nano-hydroxyapatite or fluoride toothpaste to see if sensitivity improves naturally.
- Affect the appearance of dental restorations. Due to the abrasiveness of charcoal particles, veneers, crowns, bridges, composite resin fillings, or other dental restorations can become discolored. When scratched and abraded, these dental restorations also become permeable to more stains. In addition, small charcoal particles can build up in the fissures, lines, and cracks of older teeth, which can give them a grayish or darker hue.
Simply put, there are currently no long-term scientific studies available on the benefits of activated charcoal in toothpaste and whitening treatments. The 2017 literature review by the American Dental Association concluded that there is insufficient clinical and laboratory data to substantiate the safety and efficacy claims of charcoal and charcoal-based toothpastes. Watch out for unproven marketing claims.