Do Charcoal Toothbrushes Work?

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Charcoal toothbrushes have become a big trend. Proponents tout their benefits, saying they can: 

  • Whiten your teeth 
  • Improve your breath
  • Kill bacteria in your gums
  • Remove plaque from your teeth

That’s because of the activated charcoal infused into their bristles. But do they work? And are they safe?

This article will look at what activated charcoal is, the possible benefits, and the downsides of using charcoal toothbrushes.

What Is Activated Charcoal?

Activated charcoal is an extremely porous substance with certain health benefits. It’s created by burning common charcoal (like you’d barbecue with) in the presence of a gas that makes it porous, or “active.” The pores allow it to trap chemicals.

A black-bristled, charcoal-infused toothbrush with green toothpaste.

Viktoriia Adamchuk / Getty Images

Activated Charcoal

Because of its porous nature, activated charcoal works like a sponge. It’s sometimes used to treat conditions such as:

Activated charcoal (AC) is one of the most used emergency treatments for poisoning and overdose. That’s because it can trap drugs and other toxins so they aren’t absorbed by your digestive tract. Evidence supports this use.

However, evidence behind other uses—including dental use—is lacking. Much of the research is decades old and preliminary at best. So far, AC hasn’t made it past animal trials or small human trials for most possible uses.

Recap

Charcoal toothbrushes have become trendy due to several purported benefits. Activated charcoal is used to treat emergency poisoning and overdose. Other uses are unproven.

Do Charcoal Toothbrushes Work?

If you listen to certain celebrities and online influencers, you may have heard a lot about charcoal toothbrushes. They’re said to whiten teeth, remove plaque, and freshen breath by killing germs.

But when you look at the research, instead of glowing praise, you find conflicting evidence. A 2017 review of studies urges dentists to advise caution about using AC products. Researchers have said not enough is known about their safety and effectiveness.

Benefits

Some research has shown there may be benefits of AC for dental use, but not enough studies have been done for any firm conclusions to be drawn.

Teeth Whitening

When it comes to whitening, some research shows AC does work. However, in one study, AC toothpaste was less effective than toothpaste containing microbeads or blue covarine.

Also, not all of the research agrees. A 2020 study concluded that charcoal-based powders are ineffective for “bleaching” teeth.

Better Breath

Most bad breath is caused by bacteria on your teeth and tongue. So, reducing bacteria in your mouth can help keep your breath fresh.

AC toothbrushes may be effective at lowering bacteria. A 2018 study specifically on charcoal-infused toothbrushes found they are effective at lowering levels of bacteria. 

In the study, after use, the toothbrush bristles contained significantly fewer bacteria than regular toothbrushes used by the same people for the same amount of time.

Researchers didn’t specifically address bad breath, so it’s unknown whether the lower bacterial levels helped.

Other Charcoal Tooth Products

Activated charcoal is used in toothpaste, toothbrushes, whitening powders, dental floss, and mouth rinses.

Plaque Removal

Its absorbent nature has raised the possibility that AC may help remove plaque from your teeth. At least one small study supports this.

The 2019 research showed that charcoal toothbrushes reduced plaque. It also lowered markers of gingivitis (gum inflammation), which may be due to lowered bacterial levels.

Recap

Charcoal toothbrushes are said to whiten teeth, freshen breath, kill germs, and remove plaque, but evidence about whitening is mixed. One study suggested antibacterial properties, which may improve breath. Some research suggests they reduce plaque and markers of gingivitis.

Downsides

It’s not just a lack of evidence that’s a problem with AC. Activated charcoal has some drawbacks when it comes to dental use.

Messy

Charcoal toothbrushes are a clean way to use charcoal. But charcoal toothpastes and powders can be extremely messy. 

They can leave black residue in your sink, on your counters, and on your skin or clothes. They can also leave your teeth looking gray—not what you want from a whitening product.

Erosion

The real danger of AC on your teeth is erosion. Your teeth are coated in a layer of enamel, which is hard and protective.

But your enamel can be eroded by abrasive products. Enamel erosion can expose the softer tissue underneath, which is called dentin

Dentin is naturally yellow. So erosive products can actually make your teeth more yellow.

Not Dentist Approved

The American Dental Association (ADA) warns against using AC on your teeth because of the erosion problem.

Worn-off enamel can’t be replaced. Erosion can open you up to:

  • Temperature-sensitive teeth
  • Discoloration
  • More cavities
  • Changes in fillings
  • Tooth loss or abscesses (pus-filled pockets, in extreme cases)

Eroded teeth are more likely to need fillings, crowns, or root canals. Sometimes they have to be removed. Expensive veneers may be the only way to have white teeth again.

Summary

Charcoal toothbrushes may not live up to the hype. Evidence is mixed on whether they whiten teeth.

They may kill germs, freshen breath, remove plaque, and lower your risk of gum disease, although more evidence is needed.

Charcoal is abrasive and may erode your enamel. Dentists generally don't approve of these products.

A Word From Verywell

Before you use any non-ADA-approved methods of whitening your teeth or improving your oral health, talk to your dentist. They can guide you toward products and methods that are proven safe and effective.

If you do choose to use a charcoal toothbrush despite the warnings, only use it occasionally. 

Remember that your tooth enamel can’t be replaced. Many whitening products are available that won’t permanently harm your teeth.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How is activated charcoal made?

    Activated charcoal is made with carbon-rich materials. These include things like wood, sawdust, peat, or coconut shells. They’re heated to very high temperatures, which strips away certain molecules and makes pores smaller. That basically increases its surface area. The greater surface area means it can bind to and absorb an astounding amount compared to its mass.

  • How long does activated charcoal stay in your system?

    Activated charcoal doesn’t get into your bloodstream. It stays in the digestive tract and comes out in your stool. So how long it stays in your system depends on how efficient your digestive system is.

  • Is it safe to use activated charcoal every day?

    Probably not. Daily AC on your teeth can wear away enamel. As a supplement, it’s believed to be safe in the short term. Not enough is known about long-term use.

  • How else can you use activated charcoal?

    Activated charcoal comes in supplement form, face masks, and tooth-care products. Some people take supplements for high cholesterol, kidney disease, and gas. However, medical science doesn’t support these uses.

  • What are other benefits of activated charcoal?

    The one proven benefit of activated charcoal is treating poisoning and drug overdose in the emergency room.

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8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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