Activated charcoal: Teeth-whitening wonder or hazard to your health?

BUFFALO, N.Y. - Activated charcoal is the craze in the beauty industry to help get those pearly whites, but at what cost is it taking on oral health?

What is activated charcoal?

It's not the charcoal used in your backyard barbeque. According to Dr. Todd Shatkin of Aesthetic Associates Centre in Amherst, New York, it's a slightly abrasive powder usually formed by coconut and is used in many different aspects of the health industry. 

Activated charcoal is an absorptive property, and it's designed to absorb and lift blemishes from teeth.

It's used for cleansing, weight loss treatments, and skin care products. Now it's being used for teeth whitening to remove stains. 

How does it work?

A toothbrush is dipped into the powder and is brushed directly onto teeth. The activated charcoal powder removes the extrinsic stains; stains that are caused by wine, coffee and other foods and drink. 

"Charcoal-based products would be good to remove the surface stain, but it won't internally bleach or whiten the teeth from within," Shatkin said. 

Is activated charcoal safe to use?

Shatkin says yes.

He says, to first make sure the product is FDA approved, and check the abrasiveness level

"The enamel is really pretty strong," he said. "If you're in the enamel your probably not going to do any harm to your teeth. But if the patient has worn through the enamel into the dentin, it causes sensitivity and causes discomfort. If you use abrasive materials on the dentin, it will just make things worse."

He says, in the end, it all comes down to good oral hygiene and visiting your dentist every three to six months.

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