Dye-ing to try charcoal toothpaste?

Over the course of history, lots of people have walked around with black teeth. Japanese Geishas dyed their teeth black to mimic the lacquer applied to fancy furniture. Renaissance royals ate huge amounts of sugar, which, of course, made their teeth rot. Renaissance wannabes then colored their teeth black to blend in at the royal court. Today, we have charcoal toothpaste. Granted, few people leave the house with their teeth blackened by charcoal toothpaste, but that hasn’t stopped them from flooding the internet with selfies of their sooty smiles.

Folks, it’s time we talked charcoal toothpaste. What is it? Why are people going crazy for it? Our Olathe community wants answers, can it live up to all the hype?


The theory

First we should clarify: this ain’t your mama’s charcoal. Charcoal toothpaste is made from activated charcoal. That’s charcoal that has been superheated until its molecular surface was altered. Activated charcoal is more porous than regular charcoal. In theory, the pores give activated charcoal incredible powers of absorption. Water filter manufacturers use activated charcoal to absorb unwanted minerals in your drinking water, for example, and hospitals keep it on hand to treat cases of poisoning.

As activated charcoal rose in public awareness, someone hit upon the idea of using it to clean teeth. Theoretically, the charcoal should absorb bacteria in your mouth and might even be able to lift stains off your teeth? When you wash the charcoal away, it will carry all the gunk it has absorbed with it, leaving you with a cleaner, whiter smile. So the theory goes.


The reality

There’s a pretty strong body of evidence to suggest that activated charcoal does indeed have an impressive ability to absorb stuff. All kinds of stuff. But does that mean you should put it in your mouth?

Maybe. Carefully. Many charcoal toothpastes contain large, abrasive particles that could scratch up your enamel if you use it too frequently or too vigorously. You definitely don’t want to damage your enamel, since a weak enamel can lead to hypersensitive teeth. Unfortunately, most charcoal toothpaste has a particle size that is unregulated, and too large – large enough to abrade enamel. Charcoal toothpaste is also conspicuously lacking in ingredients like fluoride that are put in regular toothpaste to strengthen your teeth.

As for charcoal’s whitening effects, you might have some success using activated charcoal to remove surface stains from your teeth. These stains, usually caused by coffee, tobacco, red wine, and the like, exist outside of your enamel, so charcoal stands a decent chance at absorbing them. But your deepest, darkest stains lay underneath your enamel, where no amount of charcoal can reach them. To get at those stains, you would need a medical-grade light or bleach treatment.


 Our best advice

Over the summer, our Rhoades Family Dentistry crew put this fad to the test.  We only want the best for our Olathe community and our bright smiling patients.  I’m going to level with you. I’m not a big believer in charcoal toothpaste. I would rather invest my hope and money in a treatment that’s guaranteed to work i.e. whitening performed by a licensed professional. Still, I don’t want to be a killjoy. If you’ve done your research on charcoal toothpaste and want to give it a try, you should!

My best advice for trying charcoal toothpaste is: look for finely powdered charcoal and keep using your regular toothpaste in addition to charcoal toothpaste. (Just not at the same time. That would be gross). A hygienist recently turned me on to Curaprox, a brand of charcoal toothpaste that was designed by thinking dental professionals. Curaprox has small, non-abrasive particles, so it shouldn’t damage your enamel the way other charcoal toothpastes can. Curaprox also has fluoride built into its formula, so you should get some of the same benefits that you would get from using regular toothpaste.