Do Charcoal & Whitening Toothpastes Actually Whiten Teeth?

smiling woman brushing teeth with toothbrush with black charcoal whitening toothpaste

Does whitening toothpaste work? If you’re trying to get rid of existing stains from coffee or tea, you may be tempted to grab whitening toothpaste off the shelf at the store, then feel frustrated when your teeth aren’t as bright as you want them to be. Some whitening toothpastes work by removing surface stains, but it depends on how they work, why you’re using them, and the natural color of your teeth. While we’re on the topic, does charcoal toothpaste work for whitening teeth? Or is it damaging to your tooth enamel? Yes, and yes.

I know. It’s frustrating. But you can safely use some types of whitening toothpaste as long as you know what you’re getting into and if you’re using it correctly.

How Does Whitening Toothpaste Work?

Can you use teeth whitening toothpaste instead of whitening trays, gels, or strips? Unfortunately, no. Yes, whitening toothpaste work when it comes to having a brighter smile, but not in the way you might expect.

You see, whitening toothpastes help prevent new surface stains from forming on your teeth. If you drink coffee and then use whitening toothpaste, your mouth will be brighter than if you just used a regular toothpaste every day. But the ingredients don’t have the same hydrogen peroxide and oxidizing capabilities that destroy stain particles inside your tooth enamel. It’s more of a preventative tool to avoid dingy enamel or discoloration when you’re a red wine connoisseur.

Whitening toothpaste is a great tool to have on hand if you’ve recently whitened your teeth with your dentist. After a professional whitening system, you want to help keep your smile bright and avoid new stain from soaking into your enamel. Whitening toothpaste fits the bill. When you use it each day—or every other day if you have sensitive teeth—you can easily prolong your whitening results and keep your smile brighter, longer.

Does Charcoal Toothpaste Work?

Just like whitening toothpaste, these products target superficial stain particles to prevent new areas of buildup across your clean enamel. They don’t penetrate the pores in your teeth to remove existing stain. And if they did, the dark color of the charcoal would probably make your teeth darker anyway.

In order for charcoal toothpaste to work, always read the label and don’t interpret the directions to mean what you want them to mean. If it says to use it once a week or twice a day for two minutes, do it. The manufacturer's directions help ensure you see the best results without wasting your money (or watching it run right down your drain.)[1]

Similar to whitening toothpaste, charcoal toothpaste helps remove new particles before they have a chance to settle down inside of your porous tooth structure. But they don’t contain whitening agents that physically lighten your enamel. For that, you’ll need to use a teeth whitening kit from your dentist.

Is Charcoal Toothpaste Safe?

A lot of people want to know, “does charcoal toothpaste work?” Let me first preface this question by saying that at least some types of charcoal toothpaste can be horribly damaging to your mouth. Charcoal is extremely abrasive and it can lead to gum recession and scratches in your tooth enamel, especially if you’re using it every day. The more scratches there are, the darker your teeth will be long-term.[2]

Now let me backtrack. Yes, there are some charcoal toothpastes that are safe when used as directed. Depending on the brand, that might only be once a week and not three times a day. You really need to communicate with your dental team on this one, as not all products are the same. Selecting the wrong one could cause serious, irreversible damage to your mouth. But when you have a safe dentist-approved brand, you can feel confident that you’re doing what’s best for your smile. 

Can I Use Charcoal or Whitening Toothpaste Daily?  

As a hygienist, I always advise my patients to steer clear of using things that are abrasive on their tooth enamel.

Any dentist-approved toothpaste is safe to use as directed. For most whitening toothpastes, that’s daily. But if you’re using charcoal toothpaste, it might be less often. We know that some types of charcoal toothpaste are more abrasive than others, so you don’t want to accidentally cause microscopic surface scratches on your teeth and dental work. Otherwise, it will make you get even more surface stains on your teeth over the long run.

Before you use any type of “special” or “different” toothpaste on a daily basis, be sure to get it cleared with your dentist or hygienist.

As a general rule of thumb, if your toothpaste has the ADA (American Dental Association) seal of approval, read the label to see if there’s anything listed about not using it more than a few times a week; most say to use them daily. However, if you have really sensitive teeth, it’s probably best to not use whitening toothpaste on a daily basis. Instead, consider using it every other day and alternating it with sensitivity toothpaste.

Best Ways To Whiten Teeth

Instead of trying to brush your teeth white with toothpaste (which is nearly impossible) it’s better to target stain particles at their source: inside the microscopic pores/tubules in your tooth enamel. Professional grade whitening products offer far better and faster results. Plus, they can even improve the brightness of your tooth enamel; whitening toothpastes can’t. Here’s three whitening treatments to make it happen:

Whitening Strips

Quality-grade teeth whitening strips provide decent contact with your teeth, compared to over-the-counter trays or whitening pens. The kinds you can get directly from your dentist will be stronger and what you usually see in stores or online. Worn as directed, most people see 3-5 shades of improvement after 10-14 days. But if you truly want to take your whitening experience to the next level, you’ll want to consider custom trays or an in-house treatment. You can't go wrong with any American Dental Association-approved teeth whitening strips.

Custom Whitening Trays

Most of the time when someone wants really white teeth, I’ll tell them that getting fitted with custom whitening trays tends to work the best. All we do is take a mold of your mouth and then we can have a completely custom set of whitening applicators. The whitening agent typically consists of hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide.

The contoured fit serves two purposes. First, it allows full and maximum contact of the product with all of your visible tooth surfaces. That means less risk for splotchy or uneven results. Second, it keeps the whitening gel product to a minimum, so you use less, it’s gentler on your teeth, and it lasts longer.

In-Office Teeth Whitening

Don’t have time to wear whitening trays every day for two weeks? You can get brighter teeth in one appointment with an in-office chairside whitening treatment. This application is jump-started by using a higher hydrogen peroxide concentration and special light technology that oxidizes the stain particles inside your teeth. The total procedure time usually ranges from 60-90 minutes, depending on how dark your tooth enamel is. Best of all, you walk out with instantly whiter teeth for that last-minute blind date, job interview, wedding, or family portrait.

Avoids Stain-Causing Foods And Drinks 

You know how they say, “you are what you eat”? Well, that’s exactly the case when it comes to the color of your teeth. Yes, some of us have naturally darker tooth enamel than others. But when we drink and eat foods known to stain tooth enamel, we’re just making it even worse. Remember, our teeth are covered in thousands of tiny tubules that can absorb stain particles. The more you expose them to stain, the darker your teeth will get over time.

Do you have to avoid dark foods and liquids for the rest of your life? No. But you should make some plans to avoid consistent exposure day after day.

Here are some of the top offenders:

Even if you’re in a situation where you’re about to indulge, it can help to rinse your mouth out with water right afterward, drink through a straw (to limit contact time), or substitute it with something  else (like white sauce for red sauce, or white wine for red.)

Ask Your Dentist About Teeth Whitening Toothpaste

Never, ever, ever try to whiten your teeth on your own without first consulting with your dentist or hygienist. If something sounds too good to be true and you’ve never once heard your dentist mention it, there’s a reason why. Make sure the products you buy for your teeth are actually recommended by a dental professional. You wouldn’t use shampoo designed by a chef, or have your plumber work on your roof. The same goes when you’re putting things on your teeth to try to get them whiter.  

Does charcoal toothpaste work and is it safe? Ask your dental team about the specific brand you’re considering. Remember, whitening toothpastes only buff away and help prevent new stains on the superficial surfaces of your teeth; they don’t remove discoloration inside your enamel. But a dentist can!

Do Whitening Toothpastes Work?

Does whitening toothpaste work? When it comes to preventing new stains and keeping your smile white (after a professional whitening treatment), yes. It’s perfect for minimizing new surface stains from coffee, tea, etc. Does charcoal toothpaste work? Depending on the type, also yes. But some are too abrasive and they can cause gum recession and enamel abrasion, making long-term tooth stain even worse. If you really want whiter teeth, talk to your dentist about getting them treated in-office. And always, always, always work with your dental team when you’re choosing which whitening products to use. They are not created equal!