If you’ve been paying any attention to the wellness industry lately, you’ve likely seen that activated charcoal is everywhere. No, this isn’t the black chunks that you throw into your barbecue grill; it’s a black powder made from coconut shells and other natural ingredients to create a powerful detoxifying agent.
You’ve probably seen the before and after photos on Instagram. Activated charcoal is showing up in face masks and body scrubs, shampoos and energy drinks, and now dental products, including whitening toothpastes and toothbrushes.
As a dentist, I make it a point to stay abreast of current trends, and I have to say: Activated charcoal is totally worth the hype.
More than an all-natural way to whiten your teeth, activated charcoal can also…
- balance your oral microbiome
- prevent cavities
- remineralize teeth
- improve bad breath
First, let’s look at the history and benefits of activated charcoal and why toothpaste that contains this powerful ingredient is the next thing you may want to add to your daily routine.
- History of Activated Charcoal Use
- Activated Charcoal Benefits
- 3 Benefits of Brushing with Activated Charcoal
- Precautions When Brushing With Charcoal Toothpaste
- What to Look For When Purchasing Charcoal Toothpaste
- Best Charcoal Toothpastes On the Market
- Final Thoughts on Charcoal Toothpaste
- Activated Charcoal Toothpaste Recipe
History of Activated Charcoal Use
Documentation of the the adsorbent properties of charcoal (more on this later) dates back to the 1700s, with the first clinical applications occurring in the early 1800s. In fact, some of the earliest scientific investigators (Bertrand, Tovery, Hort, and Garrod) were proving charcoal to be effective in preventing the clinical effects of poisoning in animals and humans even before 1835.
In 1831, Tovery stood before the French Academy of Medicine and ingested a lethal dose of strychnine mixed with charcoal. In one of the most classic demonstrations of the benefits of this substance, Tovery suffered no ill effects from the strychnine because of the simultaneous ingestion of charcoal. In 1834, Hort, an American physician, reportedly saved the life of a patient by administering charcoal after the patient had ingested mercury bichloride.
Over the next 150 years or so, charcoal was further refined, purified and activated to improve its adsorptive powers. Sadly, it has only been more widely accepted as an essential tool in the management of poisonings for the past twenty years. As its popularity has grown, charcoal is still used mainly only after gastric emptying has been completed by emesis (vomiting) or lavage. (1)
But here’s what we know: Activated charcoal is useful for much more than poison management.
Activated Charcoal Benefits
1. Activated charcoal is known for its detoxifying powers.
Considered to be more powerful than stomach pumping in most cases, activated charcoal binds to chemicals and prevents the harmful substance from being absorbed by the stomach. (2, 3) It’s one of the most powerful detoxifying agents around, which is why it may be able to eliminate bloating and even knock out a bad hangover. (4, 5)
2. Activated charcoal is made up of materials such as coconut shells or other sources.
Also known as activated carbon, activated charcoal is created in a high heat process.The end product has millions of tiny pores, and these tiny pores are what trap toxins and chemicals.
3. Activated charcoal is negatively charged.
This means lots of substances with positive charges bind to it, including free radicals, toxins, gases, and chemicals, to name a few.
4. Clinical data continues to endorse activated charcoal use.
Studies point to a new and aggressive role for activated charcoal in the management of poisoned and overdosed patients, as it’s virtually side effect-free and acts more efficiently than most other conventional treatments for poisoning and overdose.
5. Activated charcoal functions by adsorption, as opposed to absorption.
Activated charcoal works by utilizing the process of adsorption. Where absorption soaks up chemicals by another substance, adsorption happens when elements bind to a surface.
3 Benefits of Brushing with Activated Charcoal
Is it safe, you might ask? Does it work?
Kudos to you for questioning fads and trends in the medical or health community — and yes, brushing with activated charcoal is safe and can work wonders!
1. Charcoal toothpaste removes stains.
This toothpaste is a fantastic way to remove extrinsic stains (discoloration from substances on the outside of the tooth, like wine, coffee, berries, other staining foods). Keep in mind, though, that this isn’t the same thing as whitening teeth. Stain removal, however, is still an important part of keeping your teeth beautiful. (6)
Caution: Activated charcoal products may stain grout and fabrics, so protect your counters, floors, and clothes, before using.
2. Charcoal toothpaste removes acidic plaque and gives us fresh breath.
Brushing with this kind of toothpaste raises the pH of your mouth because the charcoal binds to acidic elements and increases their rate of excretion from the body. (7) This can help reduce the buildup of acidic plaque and improve your breath if you struggle with halitosis.
3. Using charcoal-based toothpaste may aid in good dental health (and overall body health).
We all need a balance in our oral microbiome. Proper use of charcoal toothpaste may provide this balance, while also helping to prevent damage by making sure your mouth’s immune system is operating at top levels. Plus, it’s not just benefitting your immune system—some evidence suggests that using activated charcoal can even improve bad cholesterol. (8)
Precautions When Brushing With Charcoal Toothpaste
I can’t tell you about all of these really positive aspects of charcoal toothpaste without also giving you the downsides of misusing this substance. Here are just a few to keep in mind:
Charcoal toothpaste can erode your enamel.
Do your research! If the toothpaste is too abrasive, it will wear down your enamel, and can, over time, cause permanent damage.
If the toothpaste seems overly gritty, it probably is. You can check the Relative Dentin Abrasivity (RDA) of your toothpaste via one quick search engine query. If you can’t find the RDA, don’t take the risk. Transparency is a big deal when you’re talking about a potentially enamel-eroding substance.
There is a right way to use charcoal-based toothpaste.
Don’t be too aggressive when using charcoal toothpaste. Rather than scrubbing hard, gently brush in a circular motion, then rinse until your spit is totally clear of any discoloration from the toothpaste.
You may also try smearing it on your teeth, letting it sit for 5 to 10 minutes and allowing it to do its adsorptive magic. This technique is particularly advisable if you’ve had issues with enamel erosion due to childhood illnesses, medication reactions, etc.
Some charcoal toothpastes have scary ingredients.
The best charcoal toothpaste products should be free of things like sodium lauryl sulfate, artificial sweeteners (like erythritol), and fluoride. Be aware of these health-destroying ingredients, as they may render null any beneficial effects you may have by using activated charcoal.
You shouldn’t use charcoal toothpaste every day.
Charcoal toothpaste can easily be overused. 2-3 days a week is a great rule of thumb in order to avoid any negative side effects, especially that pesky enamel issue.
What to Look For When Purchasing Charcoal Toothpaste
Because this toothpaste is a relatively new product, take every care to purchase the right kind. Look for these criteria when shopping:
- Made in the USA—You need to know where your charcoal is coming from. In 2007, The NY Times ran an article about the FDA confiscating toxic toothpaste made in a foreign country. Verifying the source will help you avoid any unsavory ingredients in your toothpaste.
- Coconuts—Many forms of reputable charcoal toothpaste brands are made with coconut shells, so that’s one factor I personally look for when determining my preferred brands.
- Paste versus straight charcoal—My recommendation would be to use a carefully chosen charcoal toothpaste or powder as opposed to straight charcoal. Used improperly, the abrasive property of charcoal can cause erosion of enamel much more quickly than using a variety of this toothpaste with a low RDA.
Best Charcoal Toothpastes On the Market
I personally recommend you try these products, as they check all my boxes:
Active Wow Teeth Whitening Charcoal ToothpasteA natural black toothpaste for teeth whitening derived from natural ingredients without any harmful chemicals.
Active Wow Teeth Whitening Charcoal PowderRefined charcoal powder from the purest sources. Whiten with no sensitivity and excellent for gum health.
*Be careful when opening lid for the first time so powder doesn’t go everywhere.
Final Thoughts on Charcoal Toothpaste
As you can see, activated charcoal is proven to have many benefits to our bodies; charcoal toothpaste is just one way we can take advantage of it.
Consider its benefits:
- Removes stains
- Balances oral pH and improves halitosis (bad breath)
- Helps our overall dental health
- It’s full of good stuff, and leaves out some of the not-so-good stuff found in fluoride dentifrices
As we wrap up, I’d like to address some frequently asked questions:
Is it safe to brush with activated charcoal?
Will activated charcoal stain crowns/fillings/veneers??
Is this safe for pregnant women?
Now that you understand the very real benefits of activated charcoal and how to use it safely, I hope you’ll be willing to give it a try—whether you purchase a store-bought toothpaste or try making your own.
- Mix activated charcoal, calcium carbonate, bentonite clay and xylitol in a bowl.
- Mix with a fork until well combined.
- Mix in water to form a paste.
- Add coconut oil and blend with your fork until a smooth paste is formed.
- Store in a glass jar or refillable squeeze tube.
Storage & How to Use
Keep out only what you’ll use within 5-7 days and store the rest in the fridge. The Activated Charcoal Toothpaste is made from real food ingredients and therefore doesn’t contain any preservatives. Keeping it in the fridge will extend its shelf life, but don’t expect it to last more than a month. Use your senses to determine if you need to toss it and create a fresh batch. Also, the temperature and humidity of where you live (as well as your bathroom, where you store the paste) will determine how long the toothpaste lasts.
Consider discarding used toothpaste in the trash to avoid clogging sink pipes, as the coconut oil can leave a residue over time.
Dr. Mark Burhenne
In the comments, let me know whether you plan to start brushing with activated charcoal soon!read next: How to Brush Your Teeth the Right Way