Activated charcoal is one of the latest fads in wellness. You’ve probably already heard about its detoxifying properties or seen it advertised as an ingredient in products like soaps, face masks, and scrubs. It is also touted as a natural teeth whitening solution, leading some manufacturers to include it in an array of oral hygiene products. But does activated charcoal actually benefit your teeth? Dentists aren’t so sure.
What do we know about activated charcoal?
Activated charcoal is not the same as the charcoal in your barbecue. It’s made of carbon-rich materials like wood, coconut shells, and olive pits, which are then heated to a high temperature to “activate” the charcoal or make it absorbent.
Activated charcoal was first used in 1834 to successfully treat a patient with mercury chloride poisoning. Today its toxin-absorbing properties are said to have a wide range of medicinal and cosmetic uses, though many have not been scientifically proven.
Uses for Activated Charcoal
Activated charcoal has a number of everyday uses:
Filtering toxins from water
Treating overdoses or cases of poisoning
Lessening gas and diarrhea symptoms
As an ingredient in natural deodorants
As an oral hygiene and teeth whitening ingredient, it has been incorporated into a number of oral care products:
Activated charcoal toothpaste
Activated charcoal dental floss
Manual toothbrushes with activated charcoal in the bristles
Electric toothbrush heads that contain activated charcoal
But if you’re considering activated charcoal teeth whitening, you’ll want to know if it’s safe—and if it actually works.
What Dental Experts Have to Say
In 2017, an article in the Journal of the American Dental Association (ADA) reviewed 118 studies as well as multiple product marketing claims around activated charcoal. The article concluded that there is “insufficient clinical and laboratory data to substantiate the safety and efficacy claims of charcoal and charcoal-based dentifrices.” In other words, ADA experts don’t feel there is enough scientific proof that activated charcoal has oral health benefits, or that it is safe to use for oral care.
While that does not necessarily mean that charcoal is bad for your oral health, dentists warn that we should all wait for more studies to be conducted to address the question of safety thoroughly.
So is charcoal worth the risk in the meantime? Dentists don’t seem to think so. Experts warn that the abrasive nature of charcoal may strip away enamel, which does not grow back, leaving teeth vulnerable to sensitivity and color change. Three of the studies reviewed for the Journal article also reported negative outcomes such as increased tooth decay and enamel abrasion.
According to Dr. Timothy Chase, speaking to Huffpost, “There has not been a single study done that shows that using charcoal products for oral health care does anything good for your teeth at all.” Some dentists also consider the use of activated charcoal in toothbrushes to be a marketing ploy, saying the bristles are unlikely to contain enough of the ingredient to be effective beyond the first couple uses.
Additionally, it is important to note that the American Dental Association has not given charcoal its Seal of Acceptance. With the possibility of long-term tooth damage, it seems it may be better to wait until more large-scale clinical studies are conducted around activated charcoal-based oral hygiene products.
So what are some safe and effective options for removing impurities and whitening teeth? Look for products that contain active dental peroxide. This is the same enamel-safe ingredient that dentists use for their in-office whitening treatments, so you can trust that it has been proven to work safely. We chose Rembrandt Deeply White + Peroxide Toothpaste and the Rembrandt 1-Week Whitening Kit for our collections in part because they contain this safe teeth whitening ingredient.
Talk to your dentist to figure out which whitening products will be safe and effective for your unique mouth.
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