A hot ingredient in face masks, supplements, and now even in toothpaste, activated charcoal has made its way into pretty much all aspects of our self-care routines. Here’s what you should know before brushing the black stuff all over your pearly whites.
“Charcoal has been used in health and beauty since the beginning of time,” says Sonya Krasilnikov, D.D.S., co-founder of Dental House in New York City.
The carbon ash produced when things like wood or coconut shells burn, charcoal becomes ‘activated’ (and more porous) when heated. “This is where the benefits lie,” says Krasilnikov. “Because of its porosity, activated charcoal is extremely absorbent and, like a magnet, attracts and traps debris and toxins—like undesirable chemicals and gases—effectively.” Known as a ‘binder,’ activated charcoal is even used to absorb drugs in the stomachs of people who have overdosed to prevent those drugs from being further absorbed into the body.
About Charcoal Toothpaste
Just as it does for our gut and skin, activated charcoal may also have detoxifying benefits for our mouths.
“Research suggests that activated charcoal can remove surface stains and make teeth appear whiter,” explains Jennifer Silver, D.D.S., dentist at Macleod Trail Dental in Alberta. The theory is that activated charcoal binds to various impurities, leaving your smile looking brighter. However, there’s not much definitive science on that yet.
While only bleaching products (like peroxide) can truly affect the color of your enamel and underlying dentin, charcoal seems to remove a small amount of surface staining, says Mark Burhenne, D.D.S., founder of AsktheDentist.com.
Activated charcoal toothpaste’s benefits don’t end there. “Charcoal toothpaste may be good for your oral microbiome because it gets rid of some of the nastier things, like bacteria or fungi, that may contribute to decay or other oral issues,” says Burhenne. “Because it absorbs highly-acidic toxins, activated charcoal can help eliminate bad breath and bring the mouth’s pH closer to neutral.”
While not as glamorous as whiter pearly whites, these benefits are important. “Balancing your mouth’s pH, for example, can help teeth remineralize, which reverses tooth decay and prevents new decay,” Burhenne explains.
Activated Charcoal Toothpaste Concerns
Since activated charcoal has such a significant impact on its environment, you have to use charcoal toothpaste with care.
“The abrasiveness of activated charcoal can actually damage the enamel of your teeth if it’s scrubbed against them,” explains Anatolij Koniouchine, D.D.S., founder of Rockcliffe Dental in Ontario. “If you are going to use activated charcoal, it’s important to only lightly graze the teeth during application.”
Regularly scrubbing activated charcoal into your teeth could potentially damage your enamel—the top protective layer on your teeth—over time. “Once enamel is gone, you can’t regrow more—and enamel is essential in protecting your teeth against cavities,” Macleod says. When enamel is stripped away, bacteria enters beneath the surface of your tooth more easily.
Best Practices For Brushing With Activated Charcoal
Interested in trying an activated charcoal toothpaste? First, check with your doctor to make sure your enamel is strong and healthy.
Then, look for a reputable brand and be very careful about the type of charcoal it contains. “You can produce charcoal by burning off just about any material, so I recommend a source that comes from bamboo or another natural source,” says Burhenne. Anything made from synthetic materials, or that’s not ground finely enough, can be more foe than friend to your teeth.
My Magic Mud’s Activated Charcoal Toothpastes use charcoal derived from coconut shell, along with other natural ingredients like coconut oil, and are some of the most popular pastes in the game.
From there, use your toothpaste just once every other day or so; not every time you brush your teeth. “Charcoal toothpaste should never be considered a substitute for your regular toothpaste,” says Macleod. The key to reaping its benefits is not to overdo it.
Pin this infographic for future reference: