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Activated Charcoal Summary

Use Activated charcoal at your own peril. There is limited evidence and research behind activated charcoal teeth whitening.


Activated charcoal teeth whitening is a craze that has taken off in America and is gradually becoming more and more common in the United Kingdom. Although charcoal has been used for centuries on barbecues to give great taste to meat, it has only been recently used to whiten teeth. Should you believe the hype or should you keep those charcoals for your children’s christmas stockings?

What is Activated Charcoal?

Activated charcoal is a form of carbon powder that has been processed to have small, low volume pores that increase its surface area. Activated charcoal is made from either coal or a coconut shell which is heated up to produce char. The char is then activated in one of two ways:

  • Steam activation – the char is kept in a furnace at 926 degrees celsius in the presence of steam but without oxygen. This process increases the surface area of the carbon activating it.
  • Chemical activation – the char is activated by using heat 600 degrees celsius and phosphoric acid. The acid removes the internal structure of the carbon increasing the surface area.

Activated charcoal is odourless and tasteless. It is non toxic in small quantities however make sure you do not breathe it in! It actually features in the World Health Organisation’s list of essential medicines although not for tooth whitening. Instead activated charcoal is actually used by doctors as an antidote to poisoning.

How is Activated charcoal teeth whitening meant to work?

Activated charcoal is known for it’s high capacity for absorption that is why it is used as an antidote to acute poisoning. It is suggested that a possible way activated charcoal teeth whitening works is that the nano-sized pores found in activated charcoal may bind to tooth staining agents and thus remove staining. This theory has never been proven.

The other way activated charcoal powder teeth whitening may work is through contrast and a perceptual improvement in white colour. Putting something black on your teeth and then wiping it off will make your mind perceive that the colour is whiter even if there has been no change.

What evidence is there that activated charcoal for teeth actually works?

There is none other than the occasional blogger saying that it worked on my teeth. In my search I could not find a single piece of clinical research proving or disproving whether activated charcoal teeth whitening works.

On a side note: There has been clinical research done on another DIY teeth whitening method rubbing crushed strawberries on your teeth and it does not work. So don’t do that as it is a waste of good strawberries.

What are the possible side effects from using Activated Charcoal teeth whitening?

The abrasiveness of Activated charcoal has not been measured. There are  reports that the relative dentine abrasiveness (RDA) score for activated charcoal is 70-90 however these sources are not reliable. A RDA score of 70-90 would put it in the moderately abrasive category however these reports may not be true . If this were the case then it could cause irreversible damage to your teeth.

The dark colour of the activated charcoal could stain your teeth. Tobacco, coffee and red wine have been shown to darken teeth. Enamel is not flat and actually has microscopic pits that trap stains from dark coloured foods and drinks including activated charcoal.

Carbon black  is classified by the international agency for research on cancer (IARC) as a group 2B carcinogen. This means that it is classified as “possibly a carcinogen” to humans.

Other side effects if ingested in high quantities are constipation, black stools, regurgitation into the lungs and dehydration.

Would I use activated charcoal on my teeth?

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Not a chance. I would not use activated charcoal on my teeth as there is simply no evidence behind it. Keep the charcoal for the barbecue.

If you really want to whiten your teeth. There are only two chemicals that have proven to do this time and time again hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide. If you want to get white teeth visit your dentist and get professional whitening.