Activated charcoal is the buzzy health ingredient of the moment, showing up in everything from supplements to pressed juices to beauty products. And now, it's also made its way to the oral care aisle, with brands like Curaprox and Twin Lotus marketing versions of activated charcoal toothpaste that claim to clean and whiten teeth and eliminate bad breath.
Because it's so porous, activated charcoal is sometimes used in emergency rooms to treat certain kinds of poisoning and overdose—by "soaking up" the poison, charcoal prevents it from being absorbed into the stomach. By this logic, some people believe activated charcoal can also be used to soak up toxins in the body (or in this case, stains on the teeth).
But is it a good idea to use toothpastes that contain activated charcoal? And will the ingredient really whiten and "detox" teeth? We asked dentists for their take.
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"Activated charcoal has been used on the body for thousands of years," says Bruce L. Cassis, DDS, a dentist from Fayetteville, WV. "And from a dentist standpoint, I do have patients that use these products and claim to get some benefits."
That said, he cautions that there aren't any long-term studies on activated charcoal as an ingredient in toothpaste.
"The science of charcoal 'attracting' particles has been well-studied in hospital toxicology departments and air filtering systems, but I would wait for more research to determine its true safety, especially when used in the mouth," says Trey Wilson, DDS, a New York City-based dentist. "For example, how does charcoal interact with medicines if swallowed? And how does it affect healthy oral bacteria?"
If your main concern is whiter teeth, Dr. Wilson says home whitening kits or an in-office dental exam will get you the noticeably brighter results you're after. Or for a more natural approach, he suggests swiping the inside of an orange peel over teeth: "It works subtly, but safely."
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If you do decide to use activated charcoal toothpaste, dentists agree that you should do so cautiously and sparingly. Brush with it no more than once every other week, and not for an extended period of time, even if your teeth feel normal.
"It's an abrasive ingredient," Dr. Cassis says, and frequent use could wear down the enamel on your teeth. (That's why certain people should avoid activated charcoal toothpaste altogether: "If you have a lot of recession of gum tissue, the roots of the teeth may become sensitive as a result of the abrasive quality to charcoal toothpastes," says Dr. Wilson.)
Dr. Cassis recommends trying a charcoal toothpaste from a reputable brand and taking note of any unusual symptoms, like raw or bleeding gums and an increase in sensitivity. If you experience any of these symptoms, stop using charcoal toothpaste right away and make an appointment with your dentist.