Activated Charcoal and other DIY Teeth Whitening Trends

You have probably seen it as you scroll through your Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest feed: do-it-yourself teeth whitening.  The trend of attempting to whiten your teeth with “all-natural” or over-the-counter ingredients and without the endorsement of a dentist has gained widespread popularity in recent years.  It’s no surprise that everyone wants whiter teeth.  Our goal at Timberlake Dental is for you to achieve your cosmetic goals while maintaining the best possible health of your mouth. 

There are dangers associated with some of the DIY whitening trends, and it is important to know these dangers before you attempt any of the techniques promoted as “teeth whitening hacks”.

The Two Biggest Dangers: Abrasion and Acid Erosion

  • Abrasion – Abrasion is defined as a wearing away, grinding or scraping by friction.  In dentistry, it is the wearing away of surface tooth structure by friction with another surface or material.  This is one of the dangers of DIY whitening trends that use rough, coarse or abrasive materials to polish superficial stains off of enamel.  Very mild abrasion is the mechanism of action of whitening toothpastes; they contain small, coarse particles that clean the surface stains from the outer layer of enamel.  If the wrong material is used (something that is too coarse), or if an approved material is used in the wrong manner (using an ADA approved whitening toothpaste with a hard toothbrush in aggressive motions), rather than simply removing surface stains, you can actually remove enamel!  Removing enamel will make the teeth thinner, weaker, more sensitive, and ironically, yellower over time.
  • Acid erosion – Acid erosion is the gradual destruction of tooth structure by the chemical action of acid on enamel. Dentists see severe acid erosion on patients who have a habit of sucking on lemons or patients with bulimia.  Acid erosion of teeth can also be a complication of acid reflux or GERD.  Many of the DIY whitening techniques recommend using acidic fruit juices or fruit pieces, which over time, can cause acid erosion on the teeth.

Activated Charcoal Powder and Charcoal Toothpastes

Its rise in recent popularity might make you think this is a new use for charcoal, but charcoal has actually been used in oral hygiene for thousands of years.  Hippocrates documented using it in ancient Greece.  The American Dental Association has responded to the rising interest in charcoal as an oral hygiene product by publishing a literature review of all published scientific research studies regarding charcoal and charcoal toothpastes.  The goal was to find evidence in scientific research for the safety and effectiveness of using this material on the teeth. The results of the literature review state that there is not enough support by scientific research to claim that charcoal is safe for enamel and is an effective tooth whitener.  The literature reviewed showed some mixed results, and the majority concluded that there is a risk of enamel abrasion.  The literature review also included a study of 50 charcoal powders and toothpastes available for purchase on the internet, and none of them has achieved the Seal of Approval by the American Dental Association.

In short, activated charcoal cannot be deemed safe by dentists for use on teeth.

DIY Teeth Whitening using Lemon Juice

Many other home whitening trends advise you to mix lemon juice with baking soda for a homemade whitening toothpaste.  Another technique recommends rubbing your teeth with the inside of a banana peel, and one site calls for a paste made from strawberries.  All of these fruits are acidic (lemon juice = 2, strawberries = 3.0-3.9, and bananas = 4.5-5.2) and are not meant to stay in contact with your teeth for longer than it takes to eat them.

You should never purposefully apply any acid to your teeth. 

The enamel is weakened, increasing your cavity risk, causing tooth sensitivity, and irreversibly damaging the teeth.

Still Interested in DIY Teeth Whitening?

Please discuss your ideas with Dr. Chowning.  He will be able to advise you on which specific techniques may be safe for you and which could be especially dangerous.  He can also answer any questions about the safety and effectiveness of professional teeth whitening offered at Timberlake Dental.  Call 940-382-1750 today to schedule a whitening consultation with Dr. Chowning.

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