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Activated Charcoal as a Whitening Dentifrice

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Activated Charcoal as a Whitening Dentifrice

Brantley McCarty, Nicholas Letteri, Jim Singletary, Carolyn Primus Ph.D.

LECOM School of Dental Medicine



Recent social media posts, searchable with the hashtag #activatedcharcoal, suggest that activated charcoal powder can be used as a “natural” tooth-whitening agent, achieved by brushing with the powder.

Activated charcoal has a high porosity, suitable for absorption in emergency medical situations regarding certain poisons. Its absorbing ability may produce ion exchange in the mouth via its nano-sized pores that may bind and remove tooth-staining agents. Our study assessed the abrasive effect of charcoal on to dental acrylic, as a model for other dental materials. The abrasive nature of charcoal powder has not been investigated. We questioned if the charcoal’s abrasive characteristics will outweigh the benefits it may produce as a whitening agent, if it is more abrasive than toothpaste. Dental acrylic, is known to be abraded by toothpaste, and provides a screening assessment of abrasion. Three acrylic resin models were made of equal size, structure, and composition for testing by applied 2,000 strokes of identical toothbrushes with 1 of these three materials:

  1. One capsule of Activated Charcoal mixed with 1 mL of water,
  2. One pea-sized dose of CVS Brilliant White Toothpaste with 1 mL of water,
  3. One mL of H2O.

We compared the appearance of the surfaces after abrasion with each medium.  Adhesion of particles was also noted. Our findings provide evidence about abrasion produced by using activated charcoal as a dentifrice.



Many over-the-counter products, from toothpastes to bleaching strips, claim to aid in tooth whitening but have little to no research to support their claims. Many of these products achieve whitening by removing extrinsic stains (surface stains) with abrasives or peroxides, prevent staining by use of chemicals, or promote physical removal of stains by removing food debris from already whitened teeth.3

Activated charcoal is created by the partial oxidation of various organic materials, then treated to increase its surface area for use as a general-purpose antidote.1 It contains a highly convoluted surface that can bind materials or gas, and carry it safely through the digestive system with a highly absorptive surface.2 Activated charcoal is administered in emergency medical situations, such as a drug overdose or poisoning. Its absorbing ability has been suggested as effective in removing some teeth staining agents.

How Does Tooth Whitening Work?

All tooth whitening processes work in one of two ways:

  1. Bleaching: “Bleaches contain an active ingredient, most often carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide in concentrations of 10-22%, which oxidize certain stains to reduce their coloration on the surface and within some pores or cracks on teeth.”4.
  2. Non-bleaching: “Non-bleaching procedures work by physical and/or chemical action to remove surface stains. All toothpastes rely on mild abrasion to remove surface stains between dental visits. Whitening toothpastes have special chemical or polishing agents that provide additional stain removal.”4 Abrasion is used to remove the staining agents, but desirably, the enamel will not be abraded.

Whitening toothpastes (dentifrices) in the ADA Seal of Acceptance program contain polishing or chemical agents, rather than bleaches, to improve tooth appearance by removing surface stains.”6

Nature’s Way, a manufacturer of activated charcoal, claims that the sole ingredients to their product are the gelatin capsule and the pure activated charcoal itself. No preservatives are added,2 therefore we concluded that the charcoal has no chemical bleachants, and only abrasion would be used to whiten teeth with the charcoal. Although abrasion supports removal of surface stains, its effects should be minimalized due to the fact that excess abrasion can cause gingival recession, enamel loss, and heightened sensitivity. 7 The abrasive concentrations in most paste and gel dentifrices are 50% to 75% lower than those of powder dentifrices. Therefore, powders should be used more sparingly and with greater caution by patients, especially those with exposed cementum and dentin, to avoid excess dentinal abrasion and pulpal sensitivity.7  “The ideal toothpaste should provide the greatest possible cleaning action on tooth surfaces with lowest possible abrasion rate.”7 The abrasive nature of charcoal powder on enamel has not yet been investigated. To assess activated charcoal’s abrasive nature in a quick manner, we turned to dental acrylic. Dental acrylic is known to be abraded by toothpaste and can provide a quick screening assessment of its abrasive potential. We consider whether the charcoal’s abrasive characteristics may outweigh the benefits it may produce as a whitening agent. We examined whether charcoals abrasion was significant compared to rate to toothpaste and water.  



Materials and Methods

Acrylic resin maple was made by mixing Lang Dental self- cure jet acrylic liquid + powder, and molded on a ceramic tile in a uniform thickness to set. The slab was then cut into three equal parts using a diamond disc. The following materials were used to abrade the acrylic with CVS brand “All-Pro” soft-bristle toothbrushes:

  1. One capsule of Activated Charcoal (280mg) mixed with 1 mL of water,
  2. One pea-sized dose of CVS Brilliant White Toothpaste with 1 mL of water,
  3. One mL of water.

We preformed 2,000 strokes by hand in a back and forth motion with uniform pressure using a separate toothbrush per dentifrice, and compared the appearance of the surfaces after abrasion with each medium.  Adhesion of particles was also noted.



See Pictures and Table



We observed that activated charcoal was more abrasive than a whitening toothpaste on acrylic resins. Our research does not prove that activated charcoal is unsuitable for intraoral use; however, someone using this treatment may have a combination of composite materials and enamel that may not be suitably whitened by the treatment. The fine black charcoal powder may become embedded in defects such as margins or cracks present on older dentition.

We plan to broaden our testing to examine the whitening and abrasive effects of activated charcoal on teeth.



  1. Dorland. Dorland's Illustrated Medical Dictionary, 32nd Edition. W.B. Saunders Company, 2012. <vbk:978-1-4160-6257-8#outline(3)>.
  2. "Activated Charcoal." Nature's Way. Nature's Way Products, Inc, 2015. Web. 7 Mar. 2015. <www.naturesway.com/Activated-Charcoal-100-Caps>.
  3. Summitt, James B.. Fundamentals of Operative Dentistry: A Contemporary Approach, 3rd Edition. Quintessence Publishing (IL), 012006. <vbk:0-86715-452-7#outline(15.4.3)>.
  4. "How Does Tooth Whitening Work?" Colgate Oral and Dental Health Resource Center. Colgate-Palmolive Company, 2003. Web. 7 Mar. 2015. <www.colgate.com/app/CP/US/EN/OC/Information/Articles/Cosmetic-Dentistry/....
  5. Robinson, Debbie, Doni Bird. Essentials of Dental Assisting, 5th Edition. Saunders, 2013. <vbk:978-1-4377-0423-5#outline(20.13)>.
  6. Association, American Dental. ADA/PDR Guide to Dental Therapeutics, 5th Edition. Thomson Healthcare, 092009. <vbk:978-1-56363-769-8#outline(12.4.2)>.

Anusavice, Kenneth J. Phillips' Science of Dental Materials, 12th Edition. W.B. Saunders Company, 2013. <vbk:978-1-4377-2418-9#outline(11.11)>. 

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