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Everyone’s talking about activated charcoal—but is the black stuff really the best way to whiten your teeth?

This is one of the most popular activated charcoal toothpastes. Should you use it?
You may have noticed activated charcoal is showing up in all kinds of health and beauty products these days—shampoos, face masks, deodorants, toothpastes, and even smoothies. Charcoal’s health claims include clearing up acne, easing hangovers, lowering cholesterol, and yes, whitening teeth. Charcoal can be a great tool. Because your body can’t absorb it, it works like a sponge for toxins, pulling out all kinds of gunk to promote body and blood purification. But is it the best option for tooth whitening? Not so much. Why? If you’ve ever buffed a car, you may have noticed the cloth start to take on the same tint as your paint job—in addition to getting rid of any grime, the process removed a fine layer of paint. That’s exactly how whitening and activated charcoal toothpastes work: they abrade the top layer of your teeth to remove stains.
Activated charcoal toothpaste abrades your teeth just like car buffing compounds
The more abrasive a product is, the higher the likelihood it won’t just remove stains but also damage your teeth. Activated charcoal toothpastes can strip away protective enamel and affect the softer dentin. Worse, tooth enamel doesn’t grow back. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Missing enamel leaves your teeth extra vulnerable to common stain culprits like coffee and red wine. Activated charcoal toothpastes don’t list their abrasiveness on the packaging. Without knowing it, you could easily be treating your teeth with sandpaper in a tube. This is especially relevant for those with porcelain veneers. Just like your mom’s beloved dishes, veneers are glazed. The glaze prevents any stains from seeping in. If you abrade away the glaze, the surface becomes more porous and you’ll find yourself in a catch-22: your veneers are now permeable to more stains, which will require more abrasion to remove.

How abrasive is your toothpaste?

The FDA developed a Relative Dentin Abrasivity (RDA) guide to help consumers determine how abrasive their favorite everyday dental products are. The Relative Dentin Abrasivity (RDA) guide below shows just how much frequently-used toothpastes may be wearing down your teeth. You’ll see baking soda—a common whitening agent—has an RDA of just seven, while activated charcoal toothpaste has an abrasivity rating of a whopping 90.

How abrasive is your toothpaste? Find out in this helpful chart.

Click to Enlarge

It’s crucial to choose your toothpaste carefully—particularly if you have veneers, crowns, or any other dental work at the front of your mouth, where stains are highly visible. Anything below 50 on the RDA schedule is a great choice. I like Arm and Hammer, which offers a number of toothpastes with low abrasiveness. For more significant results, you can always ask your dentist about tooth whitening treatments.

How to make and use your own DIY non-abrasive toothpaste

Baking soda and vinegar make a great alternative to activated charcoal toothpastes
Sometimes going old school is an excellent option, and that applies here, too. Using a combination of baking soda and peroxide is a tried-and-true, non-abrasive DIY method that works. As a bonus, hydrogen peroxide is designed to be an “oral debriding agent,” meaning it can help clear up any micro-lacerations or gingivitis you may have and improve your breath to boot. Simply mix two tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide with one tablespoon of baking soda to make a paste and brush with it. As with many things in life, moderation is key: once a week is enough to give you results without wearing down your enamel.

Learn more at your next dental check-up

Do you still have questions about the right toothpaste or about other dental health trends you’re seeing on Instagram? Make an appointment at Atlanta Dental Spa and talk with your dentist. You’ll learn more about how you can have a better life through better dentistry!