Today, I’m going to tell you to put charcoal on your teeth to whiten them.
ONLY I DON’T MEAN REAL CHARCOAL, PEOPLE.
We have to get this out of the way – at the very beginning – so that no one reads the first four lines and goes, “Okey-dokey, Jimbo, open up that thar bar-BE-que ‘n let me fish out a brick ‘n shove it in meh mouth. Crunchy Betty said to.”
I DID NOT SAY TO DO THAT.
We’re not talking about charcoal. We’re talking about activated charcoal. Huge difference. And if you don’t know it, you should definitely read on. Before you wobble over to the barbeque and end up with a mouth full of stinky soot.
We’re clear, right? Not “charcoal” – but activated charcoal for teeth whitening. Right! So, let’s keep going. And it goes a little something like this:
Never before I have regretted not taking “before” pictures so much. See, I started using activated charcoal to whiten my teeth about three weeks ago, as an afterthought. After reading this article, my bag full o’ blackness had sat on my counter for a month out of my lumpy laziness, and one day I just dumped a little in my mouth and held it there. Just to see what happened. You know, experiments and all.
IMMEDIATELY, there was whitening. Immediately, after rinsing out all the black.
I was hooked. But not convinced.
For the first two weeks, I did this religiously, every night after brushing my teeth. My teeth are whiter than they’ve been since I was a teenager. For the last week, I’ve only done it three times. I’m thinking even two times a week as a “maintenance dose” will be perfect.
So, instead of showing you a before picture of my dingy before coffee-stained teeth, I’ll give you one better. Me, with activated charcoal IN MY MOUTH. Just keep learning, and you’ll get to the awesome, flattering picture.
Activated Charcoal – Why It Works to Whiten Your Teeth
Before I tell you why it does this, let’s talk about what the difference between activated charcoal and regular charcoal (or even just burned stuff) is.
Regular charcoal – and we’re even talking about those burned up chunky logs in your fireplace – contains a whole host of impurities. It’s not as porous, and it’s pretty disgustingly covered with stuff you wouldn’t want to put in your mouth. Ever. Blech.
Activated charcoal (also called activated carbon) on the other hand, is really just charcoal (burned stuff) that’s been treated with a few gasses to purify it completely and turn it into a powerhouse of porous material that sucks in impurities from the environment around it.
This “sucking in” is a very rough way to describe what it actually does, which is adsorb materials. Adsorption is different than absorption, and what it basically means is that the porous surface of activated charcoal attracts (mostly unwanted) material a bit like a magnet and holds it in its pores. This leaves the area around it clean.
Activated charcoal isn’t just used for teeth whitening, though. It’s stocked in many emergency rooms, ready for people who’ve overdosed on things like drugs and alcohol. In fact, you should never, ever take activated charcoal with your prescription medication, because it WILL render your medication inert and totally useless.
Any good water filter will use activated charcoal as one of its filtering methods. AND, it’s a pretty well-known home remedy for avoiding a hangover if you sail a little close to three sheets to the wind (but you have to take it before you go to bed, or it won’t work).
Many people take activated charcoal often, to “detox,” but the jury’s still out on whether or not it also adsorbs things like vitamins and vital nutrients, so – personally – it’s not something I would take internally on a regular basis.
But how does it work on your teeth?
The answer is: Activated charcoal LOVES tannins.
And tannins (found in MANY foods, coffee, tea, wine, etc., and ad nauseum) are typically what cause staining and dinginess of the enamel of your teeth. It loves the tannins, and the tannins love it more than they love your teeth, so off they’ll go. Hopefully.
However, and here’s the good part, activated charcoal doesn’t adsorb the calcium salts tooth enamel is made of. It’s almost like it was made to whiten. And brighten. And do no harm.
So How Are You Going to Whiten Your Teeth With Activated Charcoal?
If you do some hunting and pecking, you might be able to find some toothpastes that still use activated charcoal as an ingredient. It used to be all the rage.
However, I have a feeling that with the hubbub about hydrogen peroxide as a tooth whitener, and the fact that it doesn’t look as mind-numbingly scary as activated charcoal in your mouth, the charcoal wasn’t as easy to market, so the idea died out a little.
If you can get yourself past the weird mouth look as you’re treating your teeth, you’ll be just fine. Activated charcoal is far less potentially irritating to your gums than hydrogen peroxide. And it’s not as tough on your mouth, in total. Plus, you might get a little tongue detox going on, as your tongue is a place that tends to hold quite a few toxins, if you’re not careful.
So, how are you going to use it? You could add a sprinkle to your toothpaste, or make some tooth powder and use it as an ingredient. But, for me, since I don’t really know what its “scratchiness quotient” is on the enamel of my teeth, I make a tiny little activated charcoal slurry and hold it in the front of my mouth, up against my front teeth, for about 5 minutes after brushing.
Again, you can do this however you want to. Activated charcoal has been used, for at least a century, in things like toothpastes and tooth powders. But, for me, just because I didn’t know 100% for sure whether or not it would scratch my enamel, I wanted to go the safe route.
Here’s how you do the activated charcoal tooth whitening slurry:
- Brush or clean your teeth as normal.
- Mix together a scant 1/2 tsp activated charcoal powder with about 1/2-1 Tbsp water (exact measurements are not necessary, but I do recommend mixing it with the water first, or else you might accidentally inhale some activated charcoal powder and cough for a while).
- Swish it around in your mouth for 15-30 seconds.
- Hold it in front of your front teeth for 3-5 minutes.
- Rinse your mouth – very well. You’ll see why.
Now, as promised, here is an activated charcoal embarrassing picture of me, so you can see how it looks and why you’ll want to rinse your mouth out well (but don’t worry, it doesn’t stain)!
It’s funny; I realized today that I haven’t used a “live, demonstrating” picture of myself on a blog post in MANY, MANY months.
And THIS is how I choose to remind you what I look like:
But not to fret. I took a picture of my teeth (so I can show off how white they are!) following this picture, right after I rinsed. See? SEE HOW WHITE MY TEETH ARE? LOOK AT THEM. JUST LOOK AT THEM.
And now you know. Activated charcoal: It just might whiten your teeth until they’re so bright, everyone around you’s gotta wear shades.
Activated Charcoal – How to Buy It
Quickly, because I know this is going to be a huge question. Where and how should you buy activated charcoal?
Well, my favorite way to buy it is in bulk, but the store that carries it is out of it right now and has been for about a month. You can do a Google search to see if you can find bulk, bagged activated charcoal, but for some reason it’s really difficult to find (and it’s often out of stock, so I’m assuming it’s really popular).
You do have two other very viable options, though.
- Activated charcoal capsules
- Activated charcoal tablets
If you buy the capsules, all you have to do is open them up (and one capsule is just about the PERFECT amount of activated charcoal to use on one tooth treatment) and then pour one into your water. If you buy the tablets, you can smash them into actual powder.
Having activated charcoal in these forms might actually be a little more handy for you in the long run, if you want to use them for other things, like detoxing or overindulging at the office Christmas party.
Either way, they DO sell activated charcoal capsules AND tablets at Vitacost. Here’s the obligatory link to Vitacost that will save you (and me) $10 on your first order for signing up.
But you can also find activated charcoal capsules just about anywhere these days. Your local natural foods store, many grocery stores, and even Walgreen’s.
Go Dazzle ‘Em With Activated Charcoal!
Oooh. Before I forget to mention, because I know that picture of myself with the black teeth was probably scary …
Not only does activated charcoal NOT stain your teeth, but it won’t stain anything that can’t be washed off with water. When I moved a few months ago, I found a hidden area of my wall, behind my “Crunchy Corner” where a good deal of activated charcoal had spattered the very white, very textured wall behind. It was there for at least 6 months. All it took was a super wet, warm sponge and a few swipes, and it was gone.
Have you ever used activated charcoal to whiten your teeth? If not, have you found a “home remedy” that HAS whitened your teeth? Share it with us!