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Charcoal Teeth Whitening Dangers

Even if you don't spend that much time browsing your social media feeds, you've likely heard of or encountered some of the popular "healthy living" trends in recent years. All of a sudden, it seems like everyone is eating quinoa bowls, drinking matcha lattes and brushing their teeth with charcoal.

Charcoal teeth whitening has been a growing trend on social media networks. Images of people brushing their teeth with a black foamy substance are certainly compelling, but might also leave you wondering about potential charcoal teeth whitening dangers.

If you're interested in using charcoal to try to get a brighter smile, here's what you need to know first.

What Is Charcoal Teeth Whitening?

One of the most important things to know and understand about charcoal teeth whitening is that it doesn't involve using barbecue briquettes or charcoal artist's pencils to scrub and clean your teeth. Instead, the active ingredient in charcoal teeth whitening products and charcoal toothpaste tends to be activated charcoal.

Activated charcoal is meant specifically for medicinal use. To make it "activated", regular old charcoal is heated alongside a gas, which causes the charcoal to develop large pores. The pores make the charcoal absorbent, allowing it to trap compounds like poisons and intestinal gas.

You can find activated charcoal for teeth whitening in several forms. In some cases, it is sold as a powder that you apply to the teeth with a damp toothbrush. Certain types of toothpaste also contain it. When applied to the teeth, activated charcoal supposedly traps and lifts away stains for a whitening effect. However, brushing with charcoal may present a few risks.

Charcoal Teeth Whitening Dangers

  • Enamel erosion. Along with the ability of activated charcoal to absorb stains, many people also credit its abrasiveness as a key to its whitening abilities. But, as the warns, it is likely that non-dentist-approved charcoal powder or toothpaste is too abrasive, which could cause enamel erosion. Along with making your teeth more sensitive, enamel erosion can make your teeth appear more yellow. This is because worn enamel may expose the yellowish dentin underneath.
  • Increased risk of tooth cavities. Another potential issue with using activated charcoal to whiten your teeth is that doing so might increase the risk of cavities. Many charcoal toothpaste products don't contain fluoride, a mineral that helps strengthen your teeth and make them more resistant to cavities. Although you can get fluoride from other sources, such as tap water, the amount you get from those other sources might not be enough to protect your teeth. In some cases, charcoal teeth whitening may increase the risk of tooth cavities, because people tend to use it instead of brushing their teeth or flossing. If you are going to give charcoal teeth whitening a try, it's a good idea to use it alongside your regular brushing and flossing habit, and not as a substitute.
  • Unsafe ingredients. When evaluating charcoal teeth whitening products, you have to use your best judgment. Internet ads for charcoal dental products often made unsubstantiated claims regarding the clinical safety and effectiveness of their products. The study also noted that one-third of the charcoal dentifrices contained bentonite clay. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has occasionally issued warnings to consumers advising them not to use products containing bentonite clay, because the clay has been found to contain lead.

What You Can Do If You Want a Whiter Smile

If you have educated yourself about the potential dangers of charcoal teeth whitening and still want to give it a try, ask your dentist for recommendations. Your dentist can help you select from the at-home and in-office teeth whitening treatments that are available. The one that's best for you depends on your budget, the type of results you want, and how quickly you want to see the effects. If you and your dentist choose a teeth whitening method together, you don't have to worry about the risk of unsafe ingredients or enamel erosion.