Does Activated Charcoal Teeth Whitening Work?

Despite the recent technological advancements in dental materials and products, no fully successful and lasting method has been introduced to achieve true teeth whitening at the comfort of your home.

Home teeth whitening methods have always been experiencing controversy, modification and criticism. From suggestions such as using banana peels, baking soda, and apple cider vinegar, the most recent (and possibly strangest) of the list: charcoal.

Does Charcoal Teeth Whitening Work?

What is activated charcoal toothpaste?

Although similar, it shouldn’t be confused with regular (barbecue) charcoal. Activated charcoal does not contain any of the toxins that are usually present in regular charcoal that have a carcinogenic effect on health.

Activated charcoal (also known as activated carbon) is a fine black powder, manufactured from a mixture of products including coal, clay, oil, and coconut shells (which is why it is sometimes referred to as bamboo charcoal teeth whitening, or coconut charcoal teeth whitening).

Mentions of therapeutic and medical use of activated charcoal can be seen as far back as the early 1800’s, where it was used in the treatment of drug overdoses and poisoning.

It has been recently introduced in teeth whitening products in order to whiten and brighten smiles. It can come in various form for the purpose of teeth whitening, such as:

Activated charcoal powder

Charcoal whitening powder is the most common form of activated carbon. In addition to its use as a tooth whitening product, it is also used in the treatment of food poisoning, indigestion and drug overdose.

Activated charcoal capsules

Activated charcoal capsules, or tablets are used by chewing to facilitate tooth whitening.

As an additive in toothpaste

Activated charcoal powder can be incorporated as an ingredient in toothpaste, so that it can be gently brushed on the surface of teeth to create a whitening effect.

How does activated charcoal whiten teeth?

Due to its rough and irregular structure, activated charcoal is referred to as an adsorbent. Carbon has a very wide surface area and so is extremely porous and causes other materials to stick and attach to it.

Due to this property, carbon is also commonly used in facial masks and grooming products.

Because of its structure, activated charcoal can also be considered as an abrasive material. This means that it will clear the tooth surface of any external stains or foreign debris, leaving the tooth surface clean and slightly whiter.

As an abrasive it can also be slightly aggressive towards the outer tooth surface, causing sensitivity. It’s recommended that you consult your dentist before using activated charcoal tooth whitening, especially if you have sensitive teeth.

Risks of activated charcoal teeth whitening

Today, a wide selection of dental products can be found that incorporate activated charcoal. Despite its seemingly increasing popularity, activated charcoal for teeth whitening still lacks the research and clinical studies needed to completely prove that it actually works with minimal side effects (1).

The American Dental Association (ADA) has recently published a journal indicating that there is “insufficient clinical and laboratory data to substantiate the safety and efficacy claims of activated charcoal … and that more studies are still needed to establish conclusive evidence” (2).

Most critics of activated charcoal refer to its highly abrasive and aggressive property. In dentistry abrasion refers to the mechanical wear of tooth caused by objects other than teeth. However, most toothpastes and teeth whitening methods include an abrasive component of some sort.

The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends the use of toothpastes that have a Relative Dentin Abrasivity (RDA) level not exceeding 250. Most activated charcoal powders and products contain an RDA of around 70-100 (3) which means that they are safe for the purpose of this scale.

Keeping this is mind, care is required when using activated charcoal for teeth whitening, as brushing too frequently or aggressively can lead to dental problems such as tooth abrasion, gum recession, or teeth sensitivity.

Should you use activated charcoal for teeth whitening?

Activated charcoal teeth whitening products are now more common than ever, and can be purchased from most drug stores or online stores.

Even though activated charcoal toothpastes may indeed cause some teeth whitening effect, these toothpastes usually do not contain any fluoride, and so in no way can they replace normal toothpaste.

As we will explore below, there are other teeth whitening options, but if you want to  use activated charcoal toothpaste for teeth whitening, then you can consider the product below, but be gentle and use care when using it as it can cause abrasion.

Don’t stop using normal toothpaste. Use the activated charcoal toothpaste to whiten teeth, and then use your normal toothpaste when brushing twice a day to ensure proper oral healthcare.

Recommended activated charcoal toothpaste product:

Does Charcoal Teeth Whitening Work?

With a 4.5 star rating on Amazon and over 13,000 ratings, you may want to try using the Cali White Activated Charcoal Toothpaste for Whitening Teeth.

Once again, it’s important to remember that this toothpaste has no fluoride in it, and can not replace your normal toothpaste. Using just this toothpaste alone will not prevent caries from forming and may increase your risk of dental and gum disease.

In addition to using your normal toothpaste when brushing twice a day, you can try to use the Cali White activated charcoal toothpaste once a day to try and whiten your teeth. Use a toothbrush with soft bristles and stop it’s use immediately if you feel any teeth sensitivity.

Even though most other whitening properties utilise an abrasive to produce a whitening effect, here are some other teeth whitening options:

Alternative teeth whitening methods

1. In-office teeth bleaching

The current most successful way of teeth whitening is professional teeth bleaching done at a dentist’s office.

In this method the dentist applies an abrasive material called hydrogen peroxide on teeth for a designated amount of time, causing the whitening effect. The procedure is usually repeated several times until the desired result is achieved.

2. Home teeth whitening with custom trays

Another very successful method of teeth whitening is getting custom trays manufactured for you by taking impressions at a dentist’s office, and then using these trays at home.

You can apply the whitening gel yourself on these trays, and as they have been custom made, they mould onto your teeth and provide optimum contact area for the whitening gel to take effect.

3. Home teeth whitening kits

There are various home teeth whitening kits that are available on the market that claim to be able to whiten teeth successfully. Most differ in the concentration of the whitening gel used, and in how this whitening gel is applied on the tooth surface. Some example of home teeth whitening kits are:

Teeth whitening trays

Teeth whitening strips

Teeth whitening toothpastes (one’s that use an abrasive other than activated charcoal)

Teeth whitening pens

4. Good oral hygiene

Remembering to brush twice a day and to floss once a day is not only important in keeping a healthy smile, but a beautiful smile too.

Daily brushing can prevent stains from even happening in the first place, and very consistent and well-timed tooth brushing can help to remove recent external stains caused by certain foods and drinks such as coffee or wine.

Activated charcoal teeth whitening summary

Whether or not the fine black powder really works to the extent claimed by manufacturers has yet to be scientifically proven. Although there are no long-term studies available, there is various evidence of the short-term cosmetic success of activated charcoal teeth whitening as reported by those who have used it.

Though there is no doubt about the abrasive and aggressive nature of the product, activated charcoal seems to be a successful method for short-term whitening, as long as it’s not used obsessively and for a long duration.

Yet because of the lack of studies revolving around it, I would instead firmly advise to go for teeth whitening products that have been approved by the ADA (American Dental Association).






Written by Dr. Khaled Mahmoud

Khaled Mahmoud completed his dental education and obtained his Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS) in 2017. His interests lie in cosmetic dentistry and non-surgical facial aesthetics. He is active in dental research, contemporary cosmetic materials and techniques, and has been a member of numerous public health outreach programs.