The dark side of beauty: is charcoal actually good for your teeth?

In honour of dental health week, let’s get real and debunk the myth of using smoky embers for everything from purifying face masks to toothpaste.

The beauty, health, and wellbeing industries are prone to peddling myths and fads – from fish pedicures to placenta pills and questionable coconut oil, it’s hard to cut through product promises to get to the real truth of it all.

Charcoal is the latest cure-all in a long line of superfood sort of trends – and it is everywhere. There are activated charcoal capsules, face masks and face scrubs, shampoos and smoke-coloured charcoal sponges. There’s even activated charcoal fish and chips.

Mostly, however – there are a heap of charcoal themed dental products like tooth polish and charcoal infused tooth brushes. But is it really the missing ingredient in our dental and beauty regimes? Should we be eagerly eating it, smearing it on our teeth, or lathering it over our skin? 

Activated charcoal promises to whiten your teeth and prevent other mouth and gum related diseases. It’s supposed to be great for toxin removal and detoxes, and a gentle pick-me-up for hangovers. It’s meant to aid with acne, treat insect bites, and some sources even say – snake bites too.

The internet is rife with charcoal tips, tricks, and advice. For dental health week, we decided to speak with dentist and Philips Zoom ambassador Dr Luke Cronin to try and uncover the facts for your teeth.

“We’ve certainly seen the rise of charcoal in beauty products and DIY home-remedies filling our Facebook and Instagram feeds,” says Dr Cronin. “Unfortunately, this ingredient doesn’t belong anywhere near your teeth.”

According to Dr Cronin, there is no clinical evidence that activated charcoal is effective as a stain remover, or that it can whiten your teeth. In fact, without clinical evidence it’s unclear if activated charcoal is safe to use on your teeth due to its abrasive qualities.

The theory around activated charcoal is that the carbon particles in charcoal are activated to attract impurities and toxins. “In the mouth for example it’s suggested that this could include tannins (contained in tea) that cause surface discolouration on your teeth,” Dr Cronin explains. “However, there is no data to support this claim.”

“My advice is to consult your dentist if you’re looking to whiten your teeth, they will advise you on the most appropriate product for you to use, especially if you have concerns about sensitivity. I highly recommend sticking to the approved whitening products on the market.”

So what does Dr Cronin recommend for whitening instead of charcoal? “Investing in an electric toothbrush is really key as it’s proven to remove more yellow coloured plaque than a manual toothbrush can,” he says.

“In addition to getting regular check-ups and cleans with your dentist, it’s also really important to review your diet and ensure you have enough balance."

"Consume foods and beverages that are low in acid, with a higher pH level is a good start, including whole grains, nuts, eggs, cheese, bananas, fresh vegetables, fish and lean meat – and of course, water. These foods can also help protect the tooth’s enamel by neutralising the natural acids in saliva and returning calcium and phosphorus needed to restore the minerals in the enamel.”

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