Can Activated Charcoal Whiten Your Teeth?


Photo: Kutlu/Trunk Archive

Forget the ice on his chest. T.I.’s teeth have an envy-inducing brightness that has inspired my newfound quest for pearly whites. So, to make my teeth like T.I.’s, I decided to start by brushing with activated charcoal, the most natural and cost effective way to whiten teeth—well, according to my research partner, the Internet, anyway.

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Let me explain: Activated charcoal is a porous substance that binds toxins and is often used to treat poisoning (food and otherwise) in humans and animals. And according to some people, charcoal may also reduce stains by either absorbing tannins (pigments in tea, coffee, wine and food) or acting as a magnet to attract pigment. Other websites claim that it can also help kill bad bacteria in the mouth by changing its pH. Naturally, I had to see if the stuff could live up to the hype.

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After investing $12 in a bottle of activated charcoal capsules, I brushed with the powder for two minutes. The substance is densely black and stains brush bristles (and grout, clothes, and likely, the brackets of braces), so a cheap-o brush and closed-mouth technique was required. Surprisingly, it didn’t feel gritty or particularly abrasive, though the black liquid that clung to the perimeters of my teeth made my mouth look like a total horror show. When finished, my teeth did feel smooth, like after having my teeth professionally cleaned. My teeth possessed a bluish tinge, which I suppose could be characterized as “white.”… Ish. While most things take more than one shot to yield full benefits, I wonder if this practice is something that a dentist would endorse for everyday use—or at all. So I called Dr. Ryan Fleming, a dentist based near Indianapolis, to find out.

In short, he’s not a fan. Not only is there no evidence of charcoal living up to its claims, its abrasive nature could cause problems if used too frequently. “You have to be careful with anything that’s overly abrasive,” he says. “If you someone brushes with something like a pumice or activated charcoal every day for a year, you’re going to certainly do irreversible damage to the enamel of the tooth,” he says.

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Once enamel is brushed away, the yellow-tinged dentin beneath is revealed. Fleming says once that happens, there’s nothing you can do to regain the white look of enamel, other than restoring the tooth. As with traditional whitening treatments, Fleming says it’s probably best to brush with activated charcoal once or twice a year. But since the stuff isn’t proven to whiten like peroxide-based solutions, teeth-whitening treatments may be my best bet. Bring on the whitening gel.