I look at myself in the mirror.
It’s like a horror movie. My teeth are pitch black. Black spittle runs down the corners of my mouth.
I’m a zombie, or a pirate with rotten teeth.
This would be a great Halloween costume, I think, except I couldn’t keep this stuff in my mouth for long.
“This stuff” is activated charcoal.
It’s a tiny pot of black powder I’m supposed to dip my toothbrush into and brush for one to two minutes.
Except, every time I do it, I look like some sort of freaky Halloween monster. The sink is stained black. I have to wipe everything down. And my toothbrush is a write-off; I can’t get the black out of the bristles.
But I’m doing it faithfully, twice a day, because this pot of black powder offers me hope:
Can it get the stains out of my teeth without making them even more sensitive than they already are?
People like me, with super-sensitive teeth, have a problem.
We want white teeth, but we’re worried that bleaching will just make things worse.
Most commercial teeth-whitening products contain peroxide (hydrogen or carbamide) at varying concentrations. A whitening toothpaste may not contain enough to clean away any more than surface stains, but a home whitening kit contains up to 15% peroxide.
At higher concentrations, it’s normal to experience temporary sensitivity. Two-thirds of users notice their teeth feeling more sensitive, but it usually goes away.
The American Dental Association (ADA) says there haven’t been enough studies on the impact of whiteners on enamel. However, there have been two reported cases where significant enamel damage occurred as a result of overusing whiteners.
A bigger issue is the lack of regulation.
The FDA attempted to classify peroxide-based bleaching products as drugs back in the 1990s, but legal challenges forced them to back down. Now, teeth-whitening products fall under much looser cosmetic regulations.
Which means that what you think you’re buying isn’t always what you’re getting.
Dentists are united in urging folks to use ADA-approved treatments, which have been reviewed for safety and effectiveness. Truth be told, they’d prefer people come to them for whitening. Even though their services are more expensive, they can be tailored to each person’s unique oral needs.
I’m not ready to schedule a trip to the dentist’s office just yet. I want to try some home remedies first, ideally ones that are natural and inexpensive.
First, I try oil pulling. This ancient Ayurvedic technique involves swishing oil in your mouth for 20 minutes, then spitting it out. It’s kind of fun—except when the phone rings when your mouth is full of oil.
It’s good for me, but my teeth are still as stained as ever.
Then, while browsing Amazon, I discover that one of their most popular cosmetic products is the Active Wow teeth whitening charcoal powder. The reviews are positive, so I take the leap and click.
The little pot that arrives is much smaller than I’d have expected for the price. Then again, it’s potent stuff.
I follow the instructions and brush twice a day.
At first, I dip my toothbrush into the charcoal powder and add toothpaste on top, creating my own charcoal whitening toothpaste. I prefer it this way, because I taste toothpaste instead of the chalkiness of the charcoal powder.
After a week, I don’t see much improvement, so I change my routine. I brush my teeth first and then finish off with a minute of brushing with the charcoal powder.
My daughter isn’t impressed. “It’s gross,” she says, standing well away from me. Her toothpaste is blue with sparkles in it and makes her look like a fairy princess as she brushes. She doesn’t like my new routine.
But I keep thinking I see results. Are my teeth whiter, or is it my imagination? It’s not my imagination. I’ve definitely lightened my teeth a shade.
Then I hop back online to see why activated charcoal works so well…
And that’s when it all falls apart.
Dentists urge caution with charcoal whitening products. Unlike bleach, which gets into the enamel, activated charcoal is abrasive. It rubs off surface stains. Which is fine, if you’re using it sparingly, but overuse can rub a layer of enamel right off the surface of your teeth.
Not what I was expecting when I chose a natural alternative.
If you’re going to use activated charcoal, dentists say, you should rub it on with your fingers. Don’t use a toothbrush. And don’t use it frequently. It should be an occasional whitening treatment rather than part of your daily routine.
That’s the end of my charcoal whitening experiment. I put the pot away in the cupboard.
I’ll probably still use it occasionally. After all, it’s the best natural whitening treatment I’ve found. But I don’t want to risk my enamel. Not with already-sensitive teeth.
Have you tried activated charcoal? What was your experience like? Let us know in the comments.