We speak to the experts about the latest teeth whitening trend.
By Karen Gordon
Activated charcoal is currently all the rage, with experts singing its praises for everything from face masks to teeth whitening. But does charcoal really work the miracles it claims as a natural teeth whitener, and is it safe to use? We speak to dentists Dr Adam Thorne and Dr Richard Marques about natural whitening products.
Why activated charcoal?
Contrary to popular opinion, charcoal is not a hot new hipster trend and the unlikely supplement actually dates back thousands of years.
Charcoal is not a hot new trend and the unlikely supplement actually dates back thousands of years.
The first documented use of activated charcoal goes as far back as 3750 BC, when it was used for intestinal ailments by the Egyptians, and it has been used for medical treatments throughout the ages ever since. Today, activated charcoal is used in medical facilities around the world for everything from hospital equipment to water purification.
What is activated charcoal?
Although it sounds like something you’d use to fire up the barbecue, activated charcoal has many proven health benefits. It’s typically made from carbon-containing material, like wood, that is heated at high temperatures to create charcoal, then oxidised – a process known as “activation”.
Activated charcoal has lots of small holes in its surface, increasing its surface area and making it more porous. It’s this sponge-like property that allows activated charcoal to soak up a variety of chemicals and it’s why you may see it used in filtration products, including water filters.
How does charcoal actually work?
The most effective type of charcoal is the activated form, a reheated, oxidised version of the charcoal that you put on the BBQ. The theory is that activated charcoal has an adhesive quality that binds to everything in its path, such as stains, tartar and bacteria, and works by drawing out and absorbing toxins and chemicals into its millions of tiny pores.
Activated charcoal has an adhesive quality that binds to everything in its path, such as stains.
‘Activated charcoal’s enormous surface area is dotted with the numerous nooks and crannies that draw in and trap toxic substances including stains on teeth,’ says Dr Thorne.
‘It can be brushed on or rinsed around the teeth.’
⚠️ Do not use charcoal from the BBQ, the non-activated form, as it can be toxic, warns Dr Marques.
Does charcoal really whiten teeth?
‘Charcoal works and is an effective way to help clean and whiten your teeth. It’s one of my top tips on whitening your teeth at home,’ says Dr Marques. He recommends using activated charcoal powder, toothpaste or mouthwash.
However, some dentists warn against using this method of teeth whitening. ‘I’d be concerned about the potential damage that the grainy, gritty substance can do to your teeth and gums – and like any abrasive, I’d be worried about the effects on the gums and enamel on the teeth,’ says Dr Adam.
‘We simply don’t know about the safety and effectiveness of it. If you want a gleaming white smile, I’d always recommend talking to your dentist first about using traditional whitening toothpaste for surface stains or specific whitening treatments for deeper stains or discolouration.’
8 myths and facts about natural whitening
When it comes to teeth whitening, Brits spend more than £100 million a year on products alone. We all know the usual culprits that stain our teeth, such as smoking, drinking red wine and coffee, but what’s the truth behind natural teeth whitening foods?
Strawberries have an abundance of a ‘magic’ malic acid, which naturally cleans and whitens the teeth, even though they’re red, says Dr Marques. They do however contain citric acid, which can weaken the surface hardness of your teeth, argues Dr Thorne. But the riper the strawberry becomes, the higher the concentration of malic acid compared to the more harmful citric acid.
‘So if you use strawberries as a teeth whitener, choose a really ripe strawberry, rub it on your teeth and just like exfoliating the skin, it does remove superficial debris,’ says Dr Thorne. ‘The malic acid won’t actually break down the stain molecules, but the surface clean gives your teeth a whiter appearance.’
- Coconut oil
This technique, also known as oil pulling, is likely to lessen the bacterial load in the mouth and has been shown to improve the health of the gums and whiten teeth.
‘It’s unique because it contains predominantly medium chain fatty acids of which 45 to 50 per cent is auric acid, which has proven anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects,’ says Dr Thorne. ‘Swishing the oil between your teeth can also dislodge and retained food particles.’
❗ Dr Marques recommends using coconut oils (such as the popular Lucy Bee brandas a mouthwash for two to three minutes, which will lubricate the teeth and draw out impurities.
- Green tea
Be warned: some experts say Green tea will actually stain your teeth. ‘It contains plant compounds, known as tannins, which increase the staining potential,’ says Dr Thorne. ‘This means it is acidic and will break down the enamel on teeth. Once enamel is broken down, pigmented molecules can attach to your teeth easily, and this, of course, leads to stains.’
- Baking soda
Baking soda is a natural teeth whitener, says Dr Marques. It can help to whiten teeth through its alkaline cleansing action, and is now included in many toothpastes. He suggests mixing a quarter of a teaspoon of baking soda with water and applying this to your teeth with your toothbrush.
Salmon can’t actually whiten your teeth, although Dr Thorne recommends eating it to keep your teeth healthy. ‘Salmon is a good “white food” (ie it can be eaten after whitening), and it also contains calcium and vitamin D, which is good for healthy teeth and bones.’
Apples, much like strawberries, contain malic acid, and along with their abrasiveness can help to whiten teeth. ‘The mildly acidic nature and stringent quality of apples, combined with their rough, fibre-rich flesh, could help cleansing and brightening of teeth,’ says Dr Thorne.
- Lemon juice
Citrus is cleansing and can help to maintain white teeth, says Dr Marques. But using lemon juice actually isn’t recommended as it’s very damaging to the tooth surface and can lead to increased sensitivity and staining as the enamel is worn away.
‘Lemon juice has been mixed with baking soda as a home-made whitening paste,’ advises Dr Thorne. ‘But lemon juice is very acidic causing enamel erosion and the baking soda is very abrasive causing tooth wear.’
Cheese can mechanically clean teeth, as it’s a natural cleanser, says Dr Marques. It has the added bonus of strengthening the tooth enamel and structure due to it being high in calcium. But opt for hard cheeses, such as cheddar, and be careful of blue and soft cheeses, which can cause breath odour, he advises.