Charcoal good or bad?
Charcoal toothpastes are increasingly common, available not just from startup companies such as Evo and Hello but also from industry stalwarts like Colgate and Oral-B. Evidence on whether they can whiten teeth is mixed, however, and they have the potential to do more harm than good.
Here, we explain the claims of charcoal toothpaste products, how well they work, and the potential unintended effects.
Activated charcoal is like regular cooking charcoal, but it has been heat-treated to make it extra-porous. This, in turn, makes it highly absorbent and able to trap other chemicals. Under limited circumstances, it is sometimes used in emergency medicine to treat acute cases of poisoning or overdose.
Charcoal has a long history of being used to clean teeth, thanks to its abrasiveness. According to a 2019 British Dental Journal analysis, some modern toothpastes’ labels claim that the absorbent charcoal works by binding to plaque and stains on teeth, which are then brushed away.
And some types of activated charcoal can cause more staining on teeth. Charcoal will also not remove some types of stains, like those from coffee or soy sauce.
Charcoal Toothpaste Can Make Oral Health Worse, fine charcoal grains can remain in the mouth and get into fillings or small cracks in the teeth and make decay worse. These grains may also get caught in the gums and cause irritation, sensitivity, and even small cuts or lesions that can allow germs in. This can make tooth decay and overall oral health much worse in the long term. Some people with thin enamel can cause more wear and tear, which can increase the risk of cavities.
Additionally, charcoal is not the most effective short-term whitening option. In a study comparing the effectiveness of charcoal, hydrogen peroxide, microbeads, and blue covarine, hydrogen peroxide and blue covarine were found to be the most immediately effective. Charcoal and microbeads could whiten teeth by scrubbing off some superficial stains, but they did not create the blue-shift effect that led to a perception of whiter teeth.