What is called “activated charcoal” has been in use medically for some time, but only recently has it been promoted as a teeth whitening product. What do dentists think about it?
What is activated charcoal?
Activated charcoal is not very much different from the charcoal that you might use on a barbecue. The main difference is that it has been treated with a gas that leaves it with small empty cavities. It’s a bit like a hard, black sponge! It is odourless, tasteless and completely safe if swallowed, but dentists are not convinced that it can’t do harm to the exterior of teeth if used without caution.
The claim that activated charcoal is good for teeth whitening
Activate charcoal can be bought in tablet form in pharmacies and health shops. You grind the tablets up and smear it onto your teeth where there are unsightly stains, preferably with a small amount of water mixed with the charcoal as a paste. Toothpaste with added charcoal can also be bought already mixed up.
Because charcoal is an abrasive and because small foreign objects stuck to your teeth adhere to the pores in the charcoal it does actually work to remove some stains and plaque on your teeth. These external stains tend to make your teeth appear unnaturally yellowish, so in fact the charcoal does work to some extent.
The limits of charcoal as a teeth whitener
Because the charcoal mostly acts as an abrasive, it only really affects external grittiness and superficial stains. It doesn’t penetrate any further into the teeth, so does not remove deeper stains. For this, your dentist can advise you of teeth whitening products that you can use yourself and buy at the same pharmacy as the charcoal. Even better, they may suggest that you book yourself in for a teeth whitening session or sessions with them as their techniques are much more effective in the long run.
Dangers of using charcoal
Although charcoal in powder or paste form is completely inert and safe if you swallow it, dentists do say that it can be dangerous if used too abrasively. The risk of using charcoal with too much pressure is that it can lead to erosion of the enamel on the outside of the teeth. Enamel helps to protect the more delicate and biologically important interior of the teeth.
Better teeth whitening techniques
There are a number of substances that can help to penetrate the outer layers of your teeth quite well and tend to oxidise the stains on them. Dentists prefer to use a bleaching agent like hydrogen peroxide to remove deeper stains.
Prevention is best
Even better than dealing with unsightly and embarrassing stains after they have appeared, there are several ways to prevent them from developing. Being careful of your diet and avoiding food or drinks that stain teeth like coffee, red wine and curry, can help as well as regular but thorough brushing and flossing can keep your teeth a more natural white appearance.