You probably think of charcoal as the stuff you use to cook hamburgers and hot dogs in the summertime. But a new fad says that this dark substance offers bright benefits when it comes to teeth whitening. Do the facts match the hype? Or is it better to trust professional whitening treatment from your cosmetic dentist instead? Let’s look at the facts.
Regular Versus Activated Charcoal: What’s the Difference?
Activated charcoal is what you get when you take regular charcoal, the kind you use with an outdoor grill, and apply intense heat. This is typically done in an industrial gas oven or similar environment. The charcoal forms large, highly porous gaps that are able to trap chemicals. This increases its absorbency.
Activated charcoal has no odor and no taste. It’s available in tablet forms online, at many pharmacies, and from health food stores. It’s commonly used for treating cases of poisoning, helping to correct high cholesterol, or remedying minor stomach problems.
Some people believe that activated charcoal is an effective hangover preventative. Others think that it can help expecting mothers to manage the effects of morning sickness. The FDA considers it a nutritional supplement with no formally recognized dental benefits.
How Is Activated Charcoal Used to Whiten Teeth?
In recent days, activated charcoal has gained a reputation as a teeth whitener. The user grinds the tablets into a powder form, mixes it with water, and applies the paste to his or her teeth.
The charcoal stays in place for about three minutes, during which it’s supposed to soak up stains caused by food, tobacco use, etc. Afterwards the person rinses his or her mouth several times and brushes and flosses as usual.
Is Activated Charcoal Safe? Is It Effective?
The government considers small amounts of activated charcoal safe for human consumption. As to whether it’s effective at whitening teeth, it does seem to offer a modest whitening effect, similar to what you might expect from an over-the-counter whitening toothpaste.
On the other hand, activated charcoal is extremely gritty. It may damage a tooth and expose the pulp inside to harmful bacteria.
You should avoid using it altogether if you have cuts, open sores, or other wounds to your mouth, gums, or lips.
Professional Teeth Whitening Is Still Your Best Bet
Products like activated charcoal and over-the-counter whitening kits are best used for treating minor surface staining. Your local dentist, on the other hand, has access to prescription-grade products that dissolve deep-set stains on the molecular level. You can choose between in-office treatments or take-home kits, whichever fits your schedule. The materials and methods used are strictly regulated by public health agencies for safety and effectiveness.
The Final Word
Activated charcoal is one of many alternative methods used for whitening teeth. Its reputation is based on anecdotal evidence, not results published in standard dental journals. Whether it continues to be used for this purpose remains to be seen.
Talk to your cosmetic dentist about your teeth whitening options during your next appointment. In the meantime, your smile is one of your greatest assets; give it the care that it, and you, deserve.
About the Author
Dr. Nelson Y. Howard is the founder and president of the West Coast Society for Cosmetic Dentistry. Dr. Howard is a highly respected mentor of up-and-coming dentists and continues to provide top- quality care to his valued patients. You can reach his office online or by calling (760) 599-6559.