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The truth about activated charcoal

Activated charcoal has become increasingly popular throughout social media platforms. It has slowly creeped its way into toothpaste claiming "natural whitening" power. And of course, who doesn't love life natural remedies? But how much do you really know about activated charcoal and it's safety margin? The truth is, activated charcoal is not new to medicine but it is new to dentistry. For many years, charcoal has been used in hospitals and poison control centers. The efficacy of charcoal in the pharmacological treatment of poisons has been well documented since the early 1800s. In fact, it's the most widely used method of decontamination across all hospitals. However, its efficacy in dentistry has little evidence.

Companies across the nation are claiming many benefits of activated charcoal including antibacterial, anti-cariogenic and anti-staining properties. It seems as though black is the new white! But that's not necessarily a good thing. According to the latest research published in the Journal of American Dental Association, there is insufficient data to advocate for the safety and efficacy of charcoal and charcoal-based toothpaste (J. Books et al 2017). Even more alarming is the possible deleterious affects of charcoal in toothpaste. Activated charcoal is an abrasive, and like any abrasive, it can adversely affect your teeth and your gums. Abrasive material can cause the surface of your tooth to roughen, which allows more stains and bacteria to attach to the your teeth. Ultimately, your risk for caries, gum disease and teeth staining may increase.

If you are looking for whiter teeth, there are plenty of whitening toothpastes that are approved by American Dental Association that are safe and effective. If the toothpastes aren’t working for you, then opt for a professional whitening system at your dental office. These methods tend to be very safe and much more effective. A good rule of thumb is to always look for evidence: if a company is claiming incredible results, make sure they have the data to back it up. If they don't, stay clear of false claims that may do you more harm than good.

*This blog post was written in collaboration with Dr. Desiree Yazdan


  1. Charcoal and charcoal-based dentifrices. Brooks, John K. et al. The Journal of the American Dental Association , Volume 148 , Issue 9 , 661 - 670

  2. More on charcoal and charcoal-based dentifrices. Brooks, John K.Bashirelahi, NasirReynolds, Mark A. et al. The Journal of the American Dental Association , Volume 148 , Issue 11 , 785

  3. Getting whiter teeth. Mark, Anita M.. The Journal of the American Dental Association , Volume 148 , Issue 4 , 280

  4. Mayo Clinic. Activated Charcoal [Internet]. Rochester (MN). 2014 December [cited 2015 Feb 27].

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