Does Activated Charcoal Teeth Whitening Work?

It seems counter-intuitive: using black charcoal on teeth to make them whiter and brighter. But it’s a growing trend, with makers of these products claiming that activated charcoal for teeth whitening is a natural alternative to brightening smiles.

This article takes a deeper look at activated charcoal teeth whitening, including a bit of history and how it came to be, input from dentists, and how it works to whiten teeth. We’ve also included a few products and what their manufacturers have to say about what these products do.

Keep in mind that this article is not intended as professional dental advice. Before you use activated charcoal on your teeth, talk to your dentist, first.

What Is Activated Charcoal Teeth Whitening?

The whitening ability of activated charcoal exists in its porosity, according to Dr. Manu Dave Kacker, a Doctor of Dental Surgery at Westshore Dental Arts in Westlake Village, California, who has been practicing complex cosmetic and reconstructive dentistry for more than two decades.

“It has abrasive nature – similar to what we see in commercial teeth whitening products,” said Dr. Kacker, who noted that through years of clinical observations, activated charcoal on teeth is effective in absorbing plaque and other compounds that stain teeth.

“It effectively binds to toxins and in some cases results in whiter teeth,” Dr. Kacker said.

Charcoal is both detoxifying and abrasive, and makes it a great product to remove teeth stains formed by coffee, wine and the yellow stains left from our diet, said Dr. Niloufar Molayem, a Doctor of Dental Surgery at the Pasadena Smile Center in California who has been in practice for more than 15 years.

Additionally, “it won't dehydrate the enamel like other whitening products do,” Dr. Molayem said.

Activated charcoal has been around as a detoxifier since the ancient Egyptians, said Dr. Molayem, who offers holistic options when it comes to repair and maintenance of oral health.

“It resurfaced again in 1980s for industrial use, and in 2015 in cosmetic products, and eventually the capsules were used to brush teeth with,” she explained.

Activated charcoal is an old material that’s “been around for a while,” said Dr. Kacker, who described it as “a finely milled black powder made from organic materials such as coconut shells; it is processed with high heat – this activates it.”

The internal structure becomes porous, he said, and the basic chemistry is as follows: activated charcoal has a negative electrical charge, which attracts positively charged molecules (molecularly).

“Toxins have a positive charge, causing them to be absorbed by the charcoal,” Dr. Kacker said. “Charcoal also traps free radicals. And its porous texture adds to its ability to trap unwanted substances. The human body won’t absorb activated charcoal, allowing it to carry toxins out of the body through excretions.”

In Dr. Kacker’s practice, clients are showing interest in activated charcoal for teeth whitening: “We get questions daily about it and the interest grew since Costco locally started carrying the Crest brand.”

This appears to be a growing trend because the population as a whole has been turned off by fabricated medicinal grade products, and is looking for more natural way of healing and repairing our body, Dr. Molayem said.

Additionally, teeth whitening can be an expensive proposition, “so any inexpensive natural product that could do this would be nice,” Dr. Kacker said.

“The perfect white smile is well sought after, and teeth whitening is a global phenomenon,” said Dr. Kacker, adding that other natural products used properly also have some benefits in oral health and perceived dental whitening.

“These trends will always be there in the health care field,” he said. “It is always best to consult with your dental professional before going ahead with any kind of teeth whitening procedure.”

Does Activated Charcoal Teeth Whitening Actually Work?

In Dr. Molayem’s professional experience, activated charcoal for teeth whitening products “work to certain extent to remove surface stains.” However, “it's still not nearly as effective as hydrogen peroxide administrated at a dental office.”

She added that “I think there is a misconception that natural products do no harm – but in reality, if over-used or misused, they can be harmful.”

According to Dr. Kacker, activated charcoal has some properties that can be effective for some patients in teeth whitening, “however there is no formal evidence that activated charcoal whitens teeth.”

“In my opinion activated charcoal can be used for certain patients but results are not predictable and if used safely there is minimal downside trying it,” Dr. Kacker added.

Activated Charcoal Safety Factors

Porous in texture, activated charcoal is an abrasive agent – and with any abrasive substance or dentifrice, the potential to wear down tooth enamel exists, Dr. Kacker said.

“Teeth do not re-grow or form new layers, so it is always best to be careful with any abrasive material that is used for a cosmetic whitening objective,” Dr. Kacker advised.

He noted that the FDA has a guide to measure the abrasiveness for all FDA-approved dental products, and the score or scale is 200 or below for safety in alignment with the Relative Dentin Abrasivity – RDA – score.

“As a comparison, most whitening toothpastes score between 100 to 200 RDA,” said Dr. Kacker, noting that activated charcoal powder scores around 90 on the RDA scale.

“The safety of charcoal toothpastes rests in the RDA score, a quick guide,” he re-emphasized. “The negative of any whitening method is the risk to the enamel – it is prudent to have your dentist advice your unique situation.”

According Dr. Molayem, activated charcoal for teeth whitening is safe, “but only for a limited time.”

“It is abrasive and can cause enamel damage if used for too long,” she warned. “Also, if digested, it can cause issues.”

Using this at home to whiten teeth may leave tooth enamel susceptible to deterioration and erosion, which can lead to sensitivity and cavities, according to the paper, “Tooth Whitening: Comprehensive Review and Clinical Guidelines,” published by the Academy of Dental Learning & OSHA Training.

This paper pointed to an online publication dated August 2016, in which Dr. Susan Maples, a Michigan-based dentist, stated the following: “the difference between using an approved dental tool, whether at home or at the dentist’s office, and a DIY remedy like charcoal lies in their approaches.”

For example, approved products seep through the enamel and into the inner layer of the tooth called the dentin, which influences tooth color, Dr. Maples indicated.

“Users and dentists don’t know how severe the charcoal supplement may be, so it may leave teeth stained or blotchy,” Dr. Maples noted. “The trendy product may also leave tooth enamel susceptible to deterioration and erosion, which can lead to sensitivity and cavities.”

Best Candidates and Potential Side Effects

Young adults who build up heavy stains on their teeth due to diet are the best candidates to use activated charcoal for teeth whitening, Dr. Molayem said, and people who should avoid it include anyone with fillings or crowns on their front teeth.

As far as possible side effects are concerned, “the dark color of the charcoal can get stuck around margins of fillings or crowns and create an unpleasant look,” she noted.

According to Dr. Kacker, the ideal candidate for any teeth whitening is someone with thick enamel that has heavy “chromogenic” stains from things like coffee, tea, and wine.

“But for these ideal patients anything will work,” he said. “I would also advise to use charcoal toothpaste in moderation, again with a plan with a dental professional.”

Dr. Kacker further emphasized that when it comes to teeth whitening, including the use of activated charcoal, “I would advise discretion; I have seen patients with erosion due to the overuse of abrasive whitening substances.”

Recent social media posts suggest that activated charcoal powder can be used as a “natural” teeth-whitening agent, achieved by brushing with the powder, according to the study, “Activated Charcoal as a Whitening Dentifrice,” published by the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine.

The study assessed the abrasive effect of charcoal on dental acrylic as a model for other dental materials. The abrasive nature of charcoal powder was not investigated in the study; rather, the study questioned if the charcoal’s abrasive characteristics outweighed the benefits it may produce as a whitening agent, if it is more abrasive than toothpaste.

Dental acrylic is known to be abraded by toothpaste, and provides a screening assessment of abrasion. In this study, three acrylic resin models were made of equal size, structure, and composition, and were tested with 2,000 applied strokes of identical toothbrushes with 1 of these three materials:

  1. One capsule of Activated Charcoal mixed with 1 mL of water,
  2. One pea-sized dose of CVS Brilliant White Toothpaste with 1 mL of water,
  3. One mL of H2O.

The conclusion of the study indicated that activated charcoal was more abrasive than a whitening toothpaste on acrylic resins.

“Our research does not prove that activated charcoal is unsuitable for intraoral use; however, someone using this treatment may have a combination of composite materials and enamel that may not be suitably whitened by the treatment,” according to the study. “The fine black charcoal powder may become embedded in defects such as margins or cracks present on older dentition.”.

How to Do It

For teeth whitening, activated charcoal comes in different forms, including toothpaste, capsules, and powder, and each product comes with its own specific instructions for use.

For instance, directions for Active Wow’s activated coconut charcoal powder for natural teeth whitening involves dampening a soft toothbrush, dipping it in the power, and gently brushing the teeth for one to two minutes, once or twice a day.

Instructions for the Hello® brand, which makes activated charcoal with fresh mint and coconut oil in a tube, involve using it every time you brush, with the company stating that its charcoal toothpaste has been “specifically formulated to be gentle enough for daily use.”

If you’re using capsules, Dr. Molayem recommends emptying the capsule on your toothbrush “since it’s very messy.”  Brush your teeth during showers for 3 to 5 minutes, and “make sure you rinse thoroughly.”

As far as the frequency is concerned, Dr. Molayem said to brush with it once a day, 3 to 5 days per week.

A Look at the Activated Charcoal Teeth Whitening Products

Below are several examples of teeth whitening products that contain activated charcoal. The following list is not an endorsement of any particular product – rather, our intention is to show you the range of products available, their ingredients, what they claim to do and how much they cost.

Hello® Activated Charcoal

The makers of this product claim the following: noticeably whiter teeth, prevents cavities, safe for enamel, and awesome for fresh breath. In addition to the activated charcoal, it also contains fresh mint and coconut oil. This products costs $5.99 on the manufacturer’s website.

CARBON COCO™

The activated charcoal tooth polish manufactured by CARBON COCO™ is claimed to effectively whiten teeth by absorbing stain-causing debris and bacteria. This product, which comes in a jar, contains100% organic coconut shell activated charcoal, with a hint of bentonite powder and lemon myrtle. The cost is $29.95 on the manufacturer’s website.

Tough Teeth™ Tooth Powder Whitening Charcoal

This “innovative whitening solution” is a safe non-toxic alternative to conventional tooth whitening and bleaching, according to the company. This product contains eight ingredients: kaolin clay, bentonite clay, non-aluminum baking soda, activated charcoal (from coconut shell), organic peppermint essential oil, myrrh powder, sea salt, and organic spearmint essential oil. The cost for one jar is $4.95 on the company’s website.

Qi Supplements

Qi Supplements offers a mint-flavored charcoal teeth whitening kit that is claimed to remove stains on your enamel while protecting your teeth. The activated charcoal in this kit is specially made from coconut shells. This kit also comes with a bamboo black bristle toothbrush. The cost of the kit is $12.99 on the manufacturer’s website.

Pureganic

Claimed to “remove years worth of stains,” the All Natural Activated Charcoal Coconut Teeth Whitening Powder made by Pureganic contains coconut shell activated charcoal, organic mint oil, and bentonite clay to brighten your smile and gently clean your teeth, without the use of fluoride or chemicals. The company also states that this powder is a safe, non-toxic alternative to conventional tooth whitening and bleaching. The cost of a jar is $19.99 on the company’s website.

Molr C+C Whitening Factory

This Carbon + Coconut Teeth Whitening Powder and Toothbrush kit feature its very own blend of organic coconut shell activated charcoal, according to the company, which claims that this 100% natural, medical grade activated charcoal can not only whiten your smile, but also detoxify your mouth and gums. This package ships with a 4 to 6 month supply of the C+C Whitening Factory, based on how much you use it, as well as a Molr extra soft, charcoal bristled toothbrush. The cost is $43.95 on the manufacturer’s website.

Terra & Co.

The Brilliant Black Toothpaste with activated charcoal is gentle, and therefore “great for those with sensitive teeth and gums,” according to its manufacturer. Additional ingredients include baking soda, coconut oil, peppermint oil and tea tree oil; it also contains Xylitol, a birch-derived sugar that can help remineralization to strengthen the enamel and fight cavities. The cost for one tube is $25 on the company’s website.

Final Thoughts

While it can whiten teeth, activated charcoal does not have any remineralization properties – “therefore it won't protect your teeth against cavities,” Dr. Molayem said.

For overall oral health, “you need to brush with another toothpaste with the active ingredient of your choice, such as fluoride, clay, xylitol,” Dr. Molayem advised. “But it does help to balance the saliva's pH and keeps the bacteria load down.”

She added that “bleaching at a dental office is much stronger” compared to using products with activated charcoal.

“It’s best to consult your dental professional to have routine check-ups and cleanings, and ask questions if it’s right for you,” Dr. Molayem recommended.

Dr. Kacker added that activated charcoal “has been anecdotally seen to whiten teeth” as “it could help absorb discolorations in your tooth enamel.”

“I think activated charcoal and other natural dental remedies can be beneficial when used wisely, and ideally monitored by your dentist or health care consultant,” Dr. Kacker advised.

» Related: How to Choose an At-Home Teeth Whitening System That Works


Alicia Doyle

An award-winning journalist, Alicia Doyle has covered a range of topics, from crime to sports to special education. With an affinity for human interest stories, she has written thousands of articles about inspirational people, events and organizations that have a positive impact on the community and world at large.