When it comes to having a brighter smile, there’s no shortage of options. There’s in-office whitening procedures, special toothpastes, whitening strips and gels – so many choices! But one seemingly bizarre solution definitely stands out: charcoal. Recently, it’s become something of a trend to use activated charcoal in toothpaste or in powder form for teeth whitening. Does this technique work? Is it even safe? Here’s what you’ll need to know before getting in on the activated charcoal fad.
How Does Teeth Whitening Work?
Your tooth has several layers. The whitest, outermost layer is the enamel, which is the hardest part of the tooth; under that is a less dense layer of yellowish dentin, and at the center is the pulp, the soft inner tissue containing blood vessels and nerves. Yellowed teeth can be the result of stains in or on the enamel, or it can be the result of the enamel becoming thinner with age and making the dentin more visible.
There are two different kinds of whitening: regular whitening that restores the tooth’s normal level of whiteness and bleaching that can make the tooth even whiter. With regular whitening, the product removes surface stains through physical or chemical action; this is the type of whitening that activated charcoal is used for.
How Can Activated Charcoal Whiten Teeth?
Activated charcoal can bind with food particles, plaque, and other surface stains on the teeth. After letting it sit for a while, you can remove it along with all the substances is bound to. In this way, you can remove many causes of surface discoloration all at once.
Keep in mind that activated charcoal only works on surface stains. For deep stains or age-related yellowness, you’ll need to seek alternative treatments such as professional whitening. That’s why it’s a good idea to speak with your dentist about your teeth before trying any treatment; you want to be sure that you’re addressing the real source of the problem.
Is Activated Charcoal Safe?
Activated charcoal has actually been approved by the FDA for many health uses. That said, the American Dental Association has yet to approve activated charcoal products for use on your teeth.
One thing to keep in mind when using charcoal toothpaste for whitening is that it can be very abrasive; it can wear down the enamel layer and permanently damage the tooth over time. If you do use charcoal toothpaste, be sure to brush very gently in a circular motion. Also, don’t use charcoal toothpaste every day; limit it to two or three days a week.
Of course, before using any sort of new product or treatment on your teeth, you’ll want to speak with your dentist. They’ll be able to advise you on any risks a product or treatment carries, and they may be able to point you towards alternatives. With so many people using charcoal for teeth whitening, it can be tempting to jump on the bandwagon, but be careful; a whiter smile is nice, but taking care of your teeth overall is always the most important goal!
About the Author
At Lifetime Dental, Dr. Frank Michitti helps patients in search of happy, healthy smiles. He is a Master of the Academy of General Dentistry, a title given to less than 2% of dentists in the United States and Canada. He offers several forms of cosmetic dentistry, including teeth whitening. To learn more about the practice, visit his website or call (413) 786-4400.