What Exactly Is Charcoal?
The dictionary definition of charcoal is ‘a porous black solid, consisting of an amorphous form of carbon, obtained as a residue when wood, bone, or other organic matter is heated in the absence of air’.
Now in recent years, you may have seen people buying charcoal and using it for various different tasks, including for dental applications. Don’t start scooping up your campfire embers just yet. What people have been buying is Activated Charcoal.
What’s The Difference?
Activated charcoal is different from regular charcoal because it has been heated or otherwise treated to increase its adsorptive power. And no, that’s not a spelling mistake. Activated charcoal works by utilizing the process of adsorption. Whereas absorption soaks up chemicals by another substance, adsorption happens when elements bind to a surface.
Activated charcoal consists of some carbon-rich substance – usually bamboo, wood, coal, or even coconut shell—burned without oxygen to create char. This char is then further heated to a high temperature whilst being exposed to certain gases through a multi-step process to make it extremely porous.
This activation process strips the charcoal of previously absorbed molecules and frees up bonding sites again. This process also reduces the size of the pores in the charcoal and makes more holes in each molecule, therefore, increasing its overall surface area. One teaspoon full of activated charcoal has more surface area than a football field! (I know, it’s hard to wrap your head around that one)
Cutting through the science, the activation process makes it extremely adsorbent. It can even bind to toxins stopping them from being absorbed when ingested and inside the stomach.
An early demonstration of this adsorptive property of activated charcoal goes way back to 1813 when the French chemist Michel Bertrand drank 5 grams of arsenic trioxide. He had, however, previously mixed the arsenic with activated charcoal and he survived.
Activated charcoal’s ability to adsorb toxins makes it useful for a variety of different purposes, including assisting kidney function, water filtration and even as a deodorant. It also can be used for teeth whitening.
How Does Activated Charcoal Whiten Your Teeth?
Because of activated charcoal’s adsorbent properties, it pulls toxins from the mouth and removes stains. People who have used it report that their teeth feel extremely clean and smooth afterwards and that after a few uses their teeth are noticeably whiter too. It’s safe to use because the activated charcoal doesn’t bind to the calcium of your teeth.
Brushing with this kind of toothpaste can also raise the pH of your mouth. This is because the charcoal binds to acidic elements and increases their rate of excretion from the body. This can help reduce the buildup of acidic plaque and improve your breath if you struggle with halitosis.
It is important to note that activated charcoal will only work on surface stains, those that it is able to bind to. Coffee and tea are common examples. It won’t usually work on teeth that have yellowed from antibiotics or other internal problems.
Some members of the dental community have expressed concerns that it can be too abrasive on the surface of your teeth, especially if they’re sensitive. Activated Charcoal can come in either powder or in toothpaste form. With either version, it is suggested to do so without or with limited brushing or scrubbing. 2-3 days a week is the most common advised frequency of use in order to avoid any negative side effects. Overuse of charcoal can definitely damage tooth enamel.
Whether activated charcoal is just a temporary fad or not, many people who use it report positive results. If you’re interested in using activated charcoal or if you’re concerned about the potential negative effects if used excessively, please make an appointment with one of Heritage Orthodontists highly-trained specialists to answer all of your dental concerns.