I recently read that charcoal is a good and natural alternative for teeth whitening and I think I want to try it. I did in-office bleaching with the blue light before, and the results were awesome, but the aftermath was pure agony. I don’t want to go through that again, but I’m starting to build stain back up and I’d really like to try to get them back to the same level of brightness, or as close to it as I can get it, without actually going in for a professional session. Is charcoal the best teeth whitening option for someone like me? — Simone
Interest in charcoal teeth whitening is at an all-time high right now, courtesy of a few well-known YouTubers. To be clear, this refers to activated charcoal, which is different from the type you’d use in a grill. Let’s walk through a few of the claims they’re making and break down which aspects may have some truth to them.
It’s natural and non-toxic: True. Charcoal actually has medical applications and is sold in supplement form. It’s generally considered safe to ingest in small amounts- some believe it’s a great de-toxifier.
It’s absorbent: True. One of the main theories on how it works well to remove tooth stains is that it simply soaks away stains, just like it would do when you ingest it.
It’s safe to use on your teeth: False. Everything has an abrasiveness rating, which indicates its ability to scratch things. Although your enamel is very tough, it can’t resist scratches from everything. For example, dentists often use diamond-tipped tools when they need to cut through a tooth to remove decay. Diamonds are so tough, they make very smooth cuts with less effort. Toothpaste has different levels of abrasiveness as well. You’ll have your standard toothpaste, which tends to be about middle-of-the-road, whitening toothpastes, which are more abrasive to help remove surface stains, and toothpastes for sensitive teeth, which are generally not abrasive at all in an effort to avoid causing irritation or damage. Charcoal has been tested in studies and is more abrasive than toothpaste, which means it can damage your enamel and restorations.
It works: Partially true. To a small degree, using charcoal works to lighten your chompers, though it hasn’t been clinically-proven or approved as a whitening treatment. The problem is, your enamel doesn’t come back. Once it’s gone or damaged, that’s it. Your teeth are going to be more sensitive and more prone to getting cavities. Moreover, most people don’t notice significant results- you won’t see a difference like you would if you had used a professional solution.
There are better teeth whitening solutions. Considering you’re already struggling with sensitive teeth, you need a solution that won’t aggravate what’s already going on or cause another flareup. In-office solutions are very potent, but that’s part of why they’re more effective.
Your teeth are filled with lots of microscopic holes, called tubules. They’re almost like pores on your teeth. Most of the time, dental tubules are sealed shut, but the whitening process opens them up, thus allowing the material to get in and amplify the whitening power. It can take a few days for them to close back up again, which is why temperature changes or even air in extreme cases, can be bothersome right after.
However, you can often minimize this by using fluoride before treatment. You dentist can help you find the right product for you, but using a fluoride gel or mouth rinse for a few weeks beforehand can reduce sensitivity after. You may also do well with a take-home system. In these cases, the solution is generally weaker, and you’ll gradually lighten over a week or two. It gives you the opportunity to pause the process if you start to feel sensitive as well, so you won’t wind up with the high degree of sensitivity you experienced after the in-office treatment.
This blog post is brought to you by Des Moines cosmetic dentist, Dr. Phelan Thomas. For more information on the services he provides, please visit his Des Moines cosmetic dentist website.