January 10, 2017
Last Updated:
June 24, 2021

Does Activated Charcoal Really Whiten Your Teeth?

You’ve likely heard that oil pulling – rinsing your mouth with oils like coconut and olive oil – can help clean and whiten your teeth, while removing toxins from your gums. But brushing your teeth with activated charcoal sounds counterintuitive,  right? Despite its dark color and mess created during use, food-grade activated charcoal powder is an excellent teeth-whitener and has some other surprising health benefits as well.

Coconut Oil for Teeth

Your mouth is full of bacteria, most of it there are to aid digestion and protect your mouth from the harmful bacteria present in food and the environment around you. Oil pulling is a practice where oil is swished around in your mouth, and is said to help remove bad bacteria and promote oral hygiene. The practice is often associated with Ayurveda, the traditional medicine system from India.

Oil pulling is said to clear out bad bacteria from your mouth and help keep your gums healthy, which in turn promotes overall mouth health. Some strains of bacteria found in the mouth forms a layer of film on the teeth known as plaque, and can lead to gum inflammation and tooth decay.

Oil pulling is typically done with coconut oil, but people also use extra virgin olive oil and sesame oil. Coconut oil contains lauric acid, which can react with the components that make up saliva (like sodium hydroxide and bicarbonates, which create the opaque color of saliva), and reduces plaque accumulation on your teeth and gums. Lauric acid has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, and has been shown to be very beneficial when it comes to oral health.

Oil pulling for oral health

Oil pulling is easy to do and involves just a few steps. Most people who have done oil pulling recommend doing this first thing in the morning on an empty stomach, although it's really up to the individual.

Here are the four simple steps to do oil pulling:

  1. Measure one tablespoon of oil, such as coconut, sesame or olive oil.
  2. Swish it around in your mouth for 15–20 minutes, being careful not to swallow any.
  3. Spit the oil into a trash can once you’re done. Avoid spitting it into the sink or toilet, as this can cause a buildup of oil in the pipes, which may lead to clogged drains.
  4. Rinse your mouth well using water before eating or drinking anything.

Repeat these steps a few times per week or up to three times daily. You may also want to work your way up, starting with swishing for just 5 minutes and increasing the duration until you’re able to do it for a full 15–20 minutes.

Activated Charcoal Teeth Whitening

Activated charcoal contains tiny pores, which attract, absorb, and eliminate impurities. This explains why it’s been used for thousands of years as an antidote to poisoning or digestive issues, and even for skincare and detoxing or cleansing. Brushing with activated charcoal is said to leave your teeth feeling as fresh and clean as professional whitening, but without the discomfort or chemical application.

According to research, activated charcoal can remove the grainy plaque that accumulates on teeth, along with bacteria that may be on the gums, and gradually whitens teeth when used about twice a week. It also balances your oral pH, and helps prevent cavities, bad breath, and gum disease.

While some people swear by activated charcoal, not all experts agree. In fact, a report from the Journal of the American Dental Association that reviewed 118 studies of the effectiveness of charcoal toothpaste found that their claims weren’t substantiated. The report concluded that there’s just not enough data to say conclusively and scientifically, that using charcoal toothpaste can achieve what some people say it can - though it wasn’t found to be harmful, either.

Using activated charcoal to whiten teeth

To use, simply wet your toothbrush and dip it into the activated charcoal powder, then brush your teeth as you normally would. Keep your head positioned directly over the sink to catch any dripping, and then rinse your mouth until the water runs clear. Your sink should be cleaner than ever with the wipe of a sponge.

To give your teeth some whitening love, follow these steps once a week:

  1. Brush with activated charcoal.
  2. Rinse with coconut oil.
  3. Rinse mouth thoroughly.

The bottom line

Remember, everyone has different needs when it comes to their health. What works for one person might not work for another, so be sure to monitor any changes in your health when attempting to implement something new, like using activated charcoal or oil pulling.

While there isn’t much in terms of scientific backing, some people swear by charcoal toothpaste. You can use charcoal toothpaste if you want to, but you shouldn’t expect it to magically cure dental issues without also keeping up with proper oral hygiene. The same goes for oil pulling. Ultimately, if you’ve spoken with your doctor and enjoy the results, brush and swish away!

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