activated charcoalLately, there has been increased interest in home health remedies for a huge variety of health problems from weight gain to pain relief. It’s not surprising that, in a society with spiraling medical costs and flattened incomes, people are looking to cheaper alternatives than surgery and prescription medications. Most of the time these trends are related to medical and not dental problems, but there is one that dentists are concerned about: brushing your teeth with activated charcoal in order to whiten them.

What Is Activated Charcoal?

Some people are confused about why you’d want to put charcoal in your mouth, but activated charcoal is commonly used by doctors and emergency rooms to absorb toxins, including drugs or poisons. In fact, it’s recommended to have activated charcoal in your home medical supplies in case of food poisoning or accidental overdose. At one point it was considered to be a universal antidote.

Activated charcoal is common charcoal, “the lightweight black carbon and ash residue produced by the heating of wood or other substances in the absence of oxygen,” that is heated along with a gas in order to increase its surface area and make it more porous. It’s this porous quality that helps charcoal to attract and bind materials to it through a process called adsorption, allowing the charcoal to pull them from your body, including chemicals that have caused your teeth to become stained.

Is it Safe to Use Activated Charcoal on Your Teeth?

There’s the rub (pun intended). While brushing your teeth with plain activated charcoal can cause them to whiten, the charcoal is abrasive and may roughen your enamel, causing your teeth to be more vulnerable to bacteria and cavities and potentially damaging your gums as well.

If you’re brushing with charcoal toothpaste, you should check to see what the fluoride content is because in many brands it’s not high enough to protect your teeth. This means you’d need to brush with your charcoal toothpaste and then a normal toothpaste in order to protect your teeth enough. Recently the Oral Health Foundation issued a statement on this subject, saying:

“Toothpaste needs to contain 1350 to 1,500 parts per million (ppm) of fluoride to actively protect teeth from tooth decay, but many of the current toothpastes which contain activated charcoal fall well below this level and are putting users at an increased risk of tooth decay.”

While everyone you know may be brushing their teeth with activated charcoal, its popularity does not make it either safe or effective. Until dentists know more about this whitening with charcoal fad, Dental Associates of West Michigan would advise you to stick to the other teeth whitening options for dealing with the problem of discolored or yellow teeth.