Can black charcoal really whiten my teeth?

I am interested to know if charcoal is a good way to whiten my teeth. I have had the whitening trays that are used at home, but it’s been a while and I don’t have much of the bleach gel left. It is too expensive to go in to my dentist to get a professional whitening so I was looking other options and came across charcoal. I can’t figure out how something so black can make my teeth white.
Isaiah, Austin, TX

Dear Isaiah,

White teethThe claim that charcoal can whiten teeth can be a little confusing because most of us are only familiar with the charcoal you may have used to cook your hamburgers last weekend. The charcoal that is being touted as a good tooth whitener is activated charcoal.

Let’s make sure we cover the bases about whitening your teeth with it.

Using Charcoal

Using charcoal medicinally dates back to the time of the early Egyptians and has been used for almost two decades as a way to counteract poisons and to detox. Charcoal binds to the poisons in the stomach and intestines, making it more difficult to absorb into the system. Using it to whiten teeth doesn’t go back that far. The thinking is that the charcoal will bind to the stains in the teeth and make them whiter.

Activated charcoal can be purchased over the counter or online. As with many things in life, just because you can use it doesn’t mean you should. Charcoal is a natural product and has its place, but on the teeth is really not the best place. It may make them a little whiter, but at a cost.

Charcoal is very abrasive. Our toothbrushes are a little abrasive. Our toothpastes are a little abrasive. We use them three times a day, ideally, because it does help remove stains and debris from our teeth and keep our mouths healthy. Because charcoal is so abrasive, it can actually scratch the enamel on your teeth and damage that coating that protects your teeth. Once that enamel is scratched, it doesn’t repair itself. The protection is compromised and can lead to tooth decay, sensitivity, and more stains. The damage caused for the little bit of whitening isn’t worth it.

While there aren’t too many risks otherwise using charcoal, it is always best to consult your dentist before beginning. Charcoal can interact poorly with certain drugs and may cause gastrointestinal problems if taken in excess. It can also make your tongue black, kind of like the inside of your barbecue.

This post is sponsored by Dr. Ryan Perry at Baton Rouge Family Dentist in Baton Rouge, LA.


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