Can Charcoal Teeth Whitening Damage Your Smile?

Charcoal Teeth Whitening is Popular On Social Media. But What Do Dentists Think?

You may have seen people on social media using various kinds of charcoal to either clean their teeth or to achieve whiter teeth. While charcoal isn’t an innately harmful substance, there are lots of good reasons why you should use other methods to whiten your teeth.

Why Charcoal?

It might seem counterintuitive with its black color, but charcoal actually does have a history of being used as a toothpaste or scrub to clean teeth. It was used for that purpose by ancient Romans, the English working class of the 18th century, and even in some developing countries today. It’s now being touted as a natural way to whiten teeth in some parts of the Internet. While anecdotes and stories are plentiful, there aren’t any current scientific studies that have proven or disproven the advertised benefits of charcoal for teeth whitening, according to the Pharmaceutical Journal.

What we do know is that in the centuries since charcoal was first used for dental care, we’ve come up with some much better options. Looking to simple, natural products for a better lifestyle is not a bad thing in itself, but in this case, there are some serious problems that can arise from its use.

Problems with Charcoal for Teeth Whitening

The main danger with using charcoal to whiten your teeth is that it’s a very abrasive substance. The grittiness it provides does remove surface stains and plaque from your teeth, but it’s so harsh that it also wears away the top layer of the tooth, called the enamel. Basically, your teeth may get whiter, but they are doing so because you’re taking off the surface enamel, which is a natural ivory color. Repeated use and brushing with charcoal can actually start to wear through the enamel, revealing the soft yellow layer called dentin below, according to the American Dental Association.

This problem is compounded by the fact that using charcoal often leaves behind gray or black specks on the teeth and gums. That prompts many people to brush even harder to get rid of them, worsening the possible abrasive effects. It’s not known what effect a charcoal scrub or paste has on modern-day dental work, like fillings, crowns and veneers, but it’s fair to say it’s probably as wearing on them as on your teeth.

We also caution patients against using some of the available charcoal toothpastes, because they lack fluoride and other useful ingredients most people find beneficial in their toothpaste. Fluoride in particular shouldn’t be skipped if you, like most people, have any trouble with tooth decay or gum disease.

Better Whitening Choices

The American Dental Association says a better choice for whitening teeth without the harmful side effects is to use a whitening toothpaste that carries the ADA Seal of Acceptance. You can be confident that these toothpastes are safe for your teeth and will also provide effective whitening without damaging the enamel.

Other natural ways to help your teeth stay white include keeping a healthy at-home dental regimen. We recommend brushing twice a day for at least two minutes each time, and flossing between your teeth daily. To reduce staining or yellowing of your teeth, you also can avoid foods and drinks that stain your teeth, like cola, coffee, tea, red wine and other acidic and dark-colored foods. Smoking and tobacco use can also quickly yellow your teeth. And, keeping up with a regular dental cleaning schedule will help your teeth look their best on a daily basis.

Finally, there’s always the safest and most effective whitening option: In-office dental whitening performed by trained and qualified medical professionals, like we offer.

How Your Dentist Can Help

If tooth whitening is a concern for you, the first thing we always recommend is a dental exam, to assess any possible underlying problems that are discoloring your teeth, like decay or enamel loss. You should know if you’re considering using charcoal or any at-home whitening method that not all teeth can or should be whitened. Your qualified and experienced Monterey Peninsula Dental Group dentist can help you determine what the best way is for you to get a brighter smile.

For some people, ADA-approved at-home bleaching products may be the way to go, while for others, in-office or chairside teeth whitening is a better choice. If it is, we offer completely safe, highly effective professional teeth whitening to our patients who are in search of a whiter, brighter appearance for their teeth. Schedule an appointment today or ask your dentist about the best whitening options for you at your next appointment.  

Professional vs. At-Home Whitening: What are the Advantages of Each?

Teeth Whitening Options:

Having whiter teeth is a goal for many people, whether they’re trying to address cosmetic issues resulting from dental problems or just age or diet-related yellowing. Whiter teeth can help you make a better first impression in your work and social life, and help you feel confident. For most people, discoloration or yellowing of teeth happens naturally with age and time, but it also can be hurried along if you drink or eat things that stain your teeth. Smoking is a big culprit for yellow teeth as well.

While there are DIY at-home teeth whitening kits on every drugstore’s shelves, often with very convincing ad campaigns and promises, there are also risks and negative results that can happen when you whiten your teeth at home. Professional dental whitening is another option for our patients, but it can be intimidating to think about getting whitening done at a dentist’s office.

We’ll explain the differences between the two approaches and help you decide which one is best for you.

Treatment Differences

There’s a wide variety of at-home whitening kits, which can include trays, strips, gels and bleaches. Most are a one-size-fits-all treatment that, on average, can help you get whiter teeth slowly, over the course of weeks or months. In fact, if an over-the-counter whitening product promises you immediate results, beware: It’s likely either not true, or relies on too-harsh bleaches that can damage your teeth and gum tissue.

Usually, at-home whitening kits require you to wear trays or strips for a set amount of time daily. Tray-type products need a few hours a day, while strips can sometimes be worn for just a few minutes daily. It’s common for users of these products to experience increased tooth sensitivity and gum (gingival) pain during the treatment period, according to the American Dental Association.

The whitening process in our dental office is also not immediate, but it typically takes just two weeks to complete a course of whitening treatment. We use trays that are custom-fit to your teeth, which allows us to get much more effective results than at-home kits. And, sensitivity or pain shouldn’t be a problem, as we carefully adjust the right amount of bleaching agent for your teeth. If you do experience these side effects, we are able to manage them in-office safely and effectively.

How In-Office Whitening Works

If you have professional whitening done in our office, the first thing that happens is taking impressions of your teeth. These are used to create stints or trays specially for you. A perfect fit to your teeth helps achieve the best possible outcome, and the trays are ready in just a few days.

Your Monterey Peninsula Dental Group dentist will give you a bleaching agent to use in the trays, and this will gradually brighten and whiten your teeth over the next two weeks. We recommend wearing the trays each night for 3-4 hours. The trays are clear and unobtrusive, and most patients say they’re unnoticeable by other people.

Some patients choose all-over tooth whitening, while others do just their upper teeth. As the bleaching agent works, it will remove stains from your tooth enamel, while leaving your tooth structure and any existing dental work alone. Patients often see significant brightening even from day to day.

Once the treatment is over, and your desired brightness is achieved, we’ll provide you with additional bleaching agent to use once in a while to maintain the white of your teeth. This is only needed occasionally after your whitening is done. For more on how we approach whitening, see our explanation of it here.

Cost Concerns

Professional dental whitening is often more expensive than at-home treatments, especially when comparing it to the low end of the at-home whitening products. Typical store-bought whitening kits can be as little as $20, and go all the way up to a few hundred dollars, depending on the type of product, the brand, and the quality.

On average, in-office whitening treatments are more in the $300-$600 range, and you should know that most dental insurance plans don’t cover the service because it’s considered a cosmetic procedure. However, if you’re paying entirely out-of-pocket, some discount dental plans or group insurances can get you a break on the cost of teeth whitening and other cosmetic services.

Risks of At-Home Whitening

Certain at-home whitening products can harm your gums and teeth in the long run, especially the lower quality ones. Gums can shrink back and dry in response to harsh bleaches, which makes you more prone to infection and eventual tooth decay. We especially caution patients who have extensive cavities or untreated dental problems against at-home whitening kits, because the bleach can extend into cavities and damage the tooth structure permanently. It also can damage nerves, cause toothaches, and lead to stomach problems.

Patchy or spotted teeth are also a common result of over-the-counter whitening, because the bleaching trays aren’t customized to fit just your teeth. So any irregularities or different angles or shapes can cause the bleach to stick only in some places, which doesn’t happen with professional whitening.

Our Dentists Can Help You Achieve the Best Whitening Outcome

If you want to use at-home whiteners and aren’t sure about what to choose, ask one of our dentists at your next appointment. We can help you understand the best products & teeth whitening methods and inform you about correct application of over-the-counter whitening systems. Whether you choose our professional teeth whitening treatment or an at-home option, we think it’s important to keep you and your teeth healthy!

What is Gingivitis & How is It Treated?

What is gingivitis?

Gingivitis, otherwise known as periodontal disease, is when your gums are irritated, red, swollen and often bleed when you brush. This is caused by a lack of oral hygiene which causes plaque build-up. If ignored, the plaque turns to tartar and results in inflammation of the gums.

Plaque forms on your teeth daily from all the foods you consume. To get rid of plaque you will need to brush daily as it reoccurs quickly. If plaque isn’t removed it will turn in to tartar which is difficult to remove without a professional cleaning.

Here are some early stage signs that you may be on the path to gingivitis:

  • Bad breath
  • Redness of gums/pain to touch
  • Bleeding when brushing/Flossing
  • Receding gums

Other risk factors are:

  • Age
  • Tobacco smoking
  • Drug use
  • Poor diet
  • Family history
  • Hormonal changes


If ignoring all of these signs, gingivitis can lead to more a more serious disease that result in loss of teeth, infection or serious damage to the bone this is called periodontitis. With continued neglect, the gum tissues and bone that forms around your tooth will begin to pull away from your tooth/teeth which allows the bacterial disease to build up faster, contributing to tooth loss. Gum recession occurs gradually and some patients don’t even realize they have it. Some signs will be tooth sensitivity or one day you may notice your teeth are looking longer than normal.

A common way to treat gingivitis is to get regular deep cleanings by your hygienists in order to remove the harmful bacteria. In more extreme cases, a more thorough cleaning called scaling and root planing is required, during which tartar and calculus buildup is removed from below the gum line.

In cases of advanced periodontal disease, many patients need to undergo osseous surgery, a procedure designed to smooth and reshape the bone to remove deep pockets and allow healthy gum tissue to re-attach. Fortunately, Monterey Peninsula Dental Group offers a laser alternative to osseous surgery called LANAP, or the Laser Assisted New Attachment Procedure. LANAP is less painful and invasive than traditional periodontal surgery and comes with a reduced recovery time. Read more about LANAP here.

Gum Disease has been found to be linked to heart problems, stroke, stomach problems, and diabetes. If you ignore signs of gum disease, the bacteria in plaque that builds between your teeth can eventually enter your blood stream and cause problems in more places than just your smile.

Good news, gingivitis is reversible with regular visits to your dentist and cleanings with your hygienists. With regular brushing and flossing, electric toothbrush use, and even use of an antiseptic mouth wash or toothpaste, you can help prevent gingivitis and keep your clean healthy teeth.

In early stages gingivitis can be reversed in as little as a couple weeks with at home care. Luckily, our office provides comfortable cleanings to rid the bacteria of periodontal disease and also offer laser dentistry for certain stages of gum disease. Don’t wait to address symptoms of gingivitis, book your appointment with Monterey Peninsula Dental Group today!