Does Activated Charcoal Really Whiten Teeth?

Close-up of happy female smile and healthy teeth

Everyone wants whiter teeth and a brighter smile to feel more confident and look more attractive. It is only natural for folks to want to find a do-it-yourself, inexpensive home remedy that works. There are two parts to whitening one’s teeth. The first is stain removal, and the second is the actual bleaching of the tooth’s enamel. At 172 NYC Dental, our hygienists do stain removal during the prophylaxis stage — or cleaning. Teeth whitening is a separate process.

So, where does activated charcoal fit in?

What Is Activated Charcoal?

Activated charcoal is not the charcoal used for barbecuing. It is a fine black powder created by natural oxidation of substances like wood, coal, olive and coconut shells under extreme heat. Interestingly, activated charcoal has the ability to filter impurities and has been proven to be useful in water filtration systems.

What Is Activated Charcoal’s Effect on Teeth

A study by the American Dental Association (ADA) was unable to prove that activated charcoal-based treatments were effective or safe. Essentially, they are saying “buyer beware” when it comes to using activated charcoal.

Activated charcoal teeth whitening is especially popular on social media. However, toothpaste and other methods involving activated charcoal have less effectiveness for teeth whitening than other methods — in other words, it does not work as those viral anecdotes suggest. The charcoal comes in the form of a fine powder that can be damaging to teeth, as it wears down their protective enamel with regular use. This wear comes with the risk of dental issues.

Risks of Activated Charcoal

There are some risks associated with using activated charcoal to whiten your teeth.

Studies have documented that activated charcoal is very abrasive and wears down enamel under prolonged use. While charcoal’s grittiness does remove surface stains and plaque, using it to do so risks exposing the second layer of the tooth, dentin. Dentin is yellow in color and, if exposed, would lessen the chances of a white smile. For these reasons, the ADA recommends products with a Relative Dentin Abrasivity (RDA) of 250 or lower.

Charcoal can also leave behind gray or black specks following teeth brushing, prompting people to brush even more vigorously to remove them. Because this process can wear down your teeth, it adversely affects fillings, veneers and crowns.

Charcoal-based toothpaste generally does not contain fluoride. Fluoride is found in regular toothpaste to protect tooth health and enamel. Without this ingredient, charcoal-activated products cannot effectively remove bacteria found on teeth — the primary reason regular tooth brushing is recommended. Maintaining healthy fluoride levels is important for people of all ages, especially if you already struggle with tooth decay and gum disease.

There have been reports of increased sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures with the prolonged use of activated charcoal. As previously mentioned, consistent use can wear down the top layer of the tooth, exposing dentin. As these layers thin, the nerves running through teeth become more exposed, thus increasing sensitivity to a variety of temperatures.

We at 172 NYC Dental are not sure about the effectiveness or safety of activated charcoal to whiten your teeth, so we offer the following treatments proven to be better and safer.

Dental Options for Whitening Teeth

Activated charcoal is less effective for teeth whitening than other toothpaste containing hydrogen peroxide or carbamide. Charcoal products are also relatively new and have not undergone the same rigorous safety studies as other whiteners and toothpastes. 

While charcoal may not be good for teeth whitening and overall oral health, there are proven alternatives available for this purpose.

Sensodyne Whitening Toothpaste

Whitening toothpaste options from brands like Sensodyne are safe and capable of removing stains on a surface level, though they cannot reach a stain on deeper layers. Since they will not change the natural color of your teeth, they are not the most effective whitening option, though they are among the cheapest and easiest.

If you are interested in using whitening toothpaste, be sure to look for a brand that is ADA-approved to ensure its safety and effectiveness.

Whitening Strips 

Brands like Crest offer inexpensive whitening strips that work effectively. Whitening strips can show a shade or two of effects in as little as a few days. They usually contain hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide, which can reach and bleach deeper layers of teeth.

However, doing a whitening treatment at home will not deliver the same results as an in-office technique.

Custom Whitening Trays

At 172 NYC Dental, we can fabricate custom whitening trays in our office to fit your mouth’s unique structure. Once they are made, these trays are yours to take home and use at your convenience. Whitening trays feature a higher concentration of whitening gel and can be used multiple times.

Our custom whitening trays are more effective than whitening strips and are best used in conjunction with our in-office Zoom whitening service.

Zoom In-Office Whitening 

One of the most effective teeth whitening options, Zoom whitening treatment is the gold standard for obtaining a brighter smile. With this service, we whiten your teeth using a blue LED light in 15-minute intervals over a three- to four-hour session. Most patients only need one session for immediate results. 

This treatment is safe for your gums and teeth. Compared to other whitening forms, Zoom is significantly faster and more even. We highly recommend this service to anyone interested in teeth whitening.

Cosmetic Dentistry

Explore our cosmetic dentistry services if you are interested in a straighter smile to complement your white teeth. 172 NYC Dental offers premier teeth-straightening options such as Invisalign clear retainers and porcelain veneers.

Call 172 NYC Dental Today

Our team at 172 NYC Dental is ready to service your every dental need. We will always do what’s best for you. All our advice is based on science and grounded in clinical excellence. Please call us at 646-921-5541 or book an appointment online for a most comprehensive and caring experience.

About Dr. Benjamin Ahn

Meet Dr. Benjamin Ahn, a top-rated general, and cosmetic dentist and one of the best Invisalign dentist practicing at 209 NYC Dental, a multi-specialty dental practice in Midtown East Manhattan.

Questions? Contact us online or give us a call at 646-921-5541 today!
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