What to Know About Activated Charcoal Whitening

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 27, 2021
3 min read

Activated charcoal is used in products like supplements, soaps, shampoos, face masks, and even toothpastes. A black toothpaste may seem strange, but manufacturers claim that it can lead to brighter teeth. ‌

Activated charcoal may be trendy, but does it actually whiten your teeth?

Activated charcoal is a fine black powder made by super-heating coal and other natural products. The result is a very porous substance.

Activated charcoal has been used for some time in emergency rooms in drug overdose cases. From there, it’s moved into everyday products with claims that it can help remove toxins from the body. 

But experts say that activated charcoal’s use is limited, even in emergency rooms: It works only if given within an hour of a drug overdose, and only with certain types of overdoses. 

Your teeth can be stained or discolored by lifestyle habits and your overall dental health, including:

  • Food and drink. Beverages like tea, coffee, and red wine or foods like pasta can result in stains on your teeth. 
  • Tobacco. Chewing or smoking tobacco can also result in stains. 
  • Poor dental hygiene. If you don’t brush, floss, and visit your dentist regularly, food stains can build up over time.
  • Diseases. Some illnesses can cause your teeth to have less enamel. Treatments like chemotherapy may cause your teeth to discolor. 
  • Medications. Certain medications like antihistamines can cause teeth to discolor. Some antibiotics can discolor children’s teeth.
  • Injury. Being hit in the mouth, such as during sports, can lead to discoloration. 
  • Age. As you grow older, your outer enamel can wear away, exposing the yellow dentin underneath. 
  • Fluoride. When teeth are forming in childhood, too much fluoride can cause white spots or fluorosis. ‌

Types of stains. Stains on your teeth can be intrinsic or extrinsic. Intrinsic stains lie on the dentin, a layer underneath your enamel. Extrinsic stains are on the surface of the enamel. ‌

Because of the porous nature of dentin, intrinsic stains tend to stick strongly to your teeth. To get to intrinsic stains under the solid enamel, you need to remove part of the enamel or use bleaching agents that get under it. These treatments can be done only at dental clinics.

On the other hand, extrinsic stains can be removed by brushing, toothpastes, professional cleaning by your dentist, and some chemical treatments.

Manufacturers claim that charcoal-based dental products have benefits like:

But researchers have found that there’s not enough laboratory or clinical data to back up these claims.

If you want to give charcoal toothpaste a try, talk to your dentist first. know the risks, and try not to use it for a long time.

Experts have urged caution because of issues like: ‌

Thinning enamel. When you use activated charcoal toothpaste, your teeth may look whiter at first. But after continued use, your teeth may start looking more yellow. If this happens, it’s because the activated charcoal has worn down your enamel and revealed the dentin layer of your teeth.

More surface roughness. In a lab test, researchers found that activated charcoal powder on its own increased the surface roughness of teeth and even changed the enamel surface. The study also showed that activated charcoal powder didn’t whiten teeth.

It’s easier for bacteria to cling to your teeth if the surface area is rough, raising your risk of cavities and gum disease.

Tooth powders are abrasive. In general, tooth powders can be five times more abrasive than toothpastes because of the abrasive materials used, as well as the size of their particles.

Not suitable for children. Dentists say that children especially shouldn’t use activated charcoal toothpastes because they’re too abrasive for developing teeth.

To prevent tooth discoloration:

  • Floss every day.
  • Brush your teeth for 2 minutes twice a day.
  • Try to cut down on food and drinks that can stain your teeth. This includes cola, red wine, tea, and coffee.
  • When you do drink these beverages, use a straw. 
  • Drink water or rinse your mouth after you drink or eat something that may stain your teeth.
  • Stop smoking.
  • If you’ve been consuming acidic food and drinks, chewing sugarless gum can help neutralize the acids in your mouth. High-fiber foods like spinach and leafy greens can also create more saliva. 
  • Be careful when trying home remedies for stains. For example, baking soda is very abrasive, and hydrogen peroxide can corrode your teeth.