Here's The Complicated Truth About Charcoal Toothpaste

Updated 04/03/19

As the avid coffee drinker that I am, I'm very aware of the state of my teeth. I want them to be strong and healthy, as well as cosmetically pleasing (read: bright, white, and shiny). My annual dental checkup and strict brushing and flossing routine take care of the first—and most important—part. As for the second part, I dabble with at-home whitening products whenever my smile looks dull or slightly yellowed (curse you, coffee!). 

Whitening strips have traditionally been my go-to product, but ever since I tested out my first charcoal toothpaste awhile back, I've been a loyal convert. That's because most charcoal toothpaste formulas veer towards the natural side of personal care products. The one I use contains mint, coconut oil, charcoal, and little else. Plus, they're easy and satisfying to use (they turn your turn gray for two minutes before revealing a whiter and brighter smile underneath). I swear my teeth look all the better for it, but dentists aren't convinced.

Charcoal, they say, might whiten teeth, but it could have detrimental longterm effects. Keep scrolling to get the truth about charcoal toothpaste straight from an expert dentist.  

Hello Activated Charcoal Whitening Toothpaste
Hello Activated Charcoal Whitening Toothpaste $5
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This is the $5 charcoal toothpaste I've been using for over a month. I can say with utmost confidence that it works. After only a few brushings, my teeth, which before seemed perpetually enveloped in subtle surface-level stains, were noticeably brighter and whiter. 

Beyond the extremely gratifying whitening results, I personally like the fact that it's budget-friendly, vegan, and cruelty-free. And despite the trepidations I had before trying it (the toothpaste itself is an off-putting dark gray color), it tastes just like other traditional mint toothpastes and rinses out easily. After quickly swishing my mouth with water, I see no charcoal residue left behind on my chompers. Like I said before, I'm a loyal convert and have been using this toothpaste almost every single day since I first discovered it.

 

White Smile
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The experts aren't as convinced as I am. According to Beverly Hills cosmetic dentist Dr. Matt Nejad, charcoal teeth products aren't all that they're cracked up to be for a couple of reasons. The first has to do with the actual whitening method. "There are a couple approaches to whitening," he says. "The first one is using a chemical which breaks down colors and actually bleaches or lightens the color of the teeth, which removes both surface stains and lightens the color of the tooth. The other approach is to remove stains from the surface by abrasion, but abrasion has to be high enough to remove stain without being too abrasive to remove your own enamel.

 If it’s too abrasive, it will roughen the surface of your enamel and remove/thin the enamel over prolonged use."

Charcoal toothpaste belongs to the latter category, since it whitens—at least in part—through abrasion. Unlike other whitening methods, it's not penetrating the enamel to change the actual color of the tooth. It's all about removing surface-level stains.

Hello Bamboo Charcoal Toothbrush
Hello Bamboo Charcoal Toothbrush $4
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"Activated Charcoal has the potential to bind to some of the stains on the tooth surface and remove it, but it only works on certain stains and certainly does not lighten the actual color of the tooth like other chemical agents such as peroxide," Nejad explains. So while it worked on my teeth by removing rogue coffee stains and subsequently brightening my smile by a few notches (which is all I was looking for), it might fall short if you're looking for dramatic teeth whitening. If that's the case, you'll want to look to other whitening methods that go beyond just the surface of the tooth.

 

While it's efficacy is called into question depending on your desired whitening result, its potential for enamel damage is also unsettling; it all goes back to its aforementioned abrasive quality. "Another way in that charcoal works is in its abrasive property. All toothpastes have an abrasive component that helps remove the stains from the surface, but the key is not to be too abrasive to cause you to lose more of your enamel or cause damage. Charcoal products range in their abrasiveness and most are not tested as they are popping up everywhere," Nejad cautions.

 

Teeth Whitening
Kaitlyn McLintock

When it comes down to it, Nejad says he wouldn't recommend the use of charcoal toothpaste; that's for a couple of different reasons. "First, it will not provide you with the level of whitening you are probably looking for because removing surface stains is rarely enough to give your teeth a bright white appearance. Secondly, its safety is still unknown, but early signs do not look promising and this is probably compounded by the lack of regulation on charcoal containing dental products."

He cites one study that found "charcoal left a significantly rougher surface of enamel when compared to a less abrasive toothpaste product. The surface roughness of the enamel after a simulated 3-months of use with the charcoal toothpaste was twice as rough as the enamel in the other tested groups." Like I said before, it's unsettling. 

At the end of the day, each one of us is a competent consumer. While I had success whitening my teeth with charcoal toothpaste, I'm going to cut back on how often I use it to ensure my teeth stay strong and healthy (after all, the last thing I want to do is whittle away my enamel). I'm also going to only buy it from a source and brand I trust (in this case, that's Hello Oral Care). Finally, I'm going to maintain annual dentist appointments. The key here, as with anything in beauty, is to consider your options, weigh the risks, and consult a professional before undertaking any major changes.

 

Next, how you can tell whether or not that pricey hyaluronic acid serum is worth using. 

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