Activated Charcoal: A Complete Guide to Tooth Powder Brands


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Activated charcoal has become an increasingly popular ingredient in oral care products in recent years. Brands have started adding activated charcoal powder or charcoal extracts to toothpastes, mouthwashes, teeth whitening powders and more to take advantage of its potential benefits for oral health.

This article provides a complete guide to activated charcoal for oral care brands interested in using it in their products. We’ll cover what activated charcoal is, how it works, its potential benefits for oral health, safety considerations, and tips for formulating with activated charcoal powder.

What is Activated Charcoal?

Activated charcoal, also known as activated carbon, is a fine black powder made from materials like coconut shells, wood, coal or peat. The charcoal goes through a high temperature steam activation process which creates a highly porous surface structure, resulting in millions of tiny pores within each particle.Activated Charcoal used in charcoal tooth powder

This porous structure gives activated charcoal an extremely high surface area to volume ratio. One teaspoon of activated charcoal can contain a surface area of 200-250 square meters. This makes it highly adsorbent, meaning it can bind to chemicals and gases and remove them from the surrounding environment.

Coconut Shell Charcoal VS. Bamboo Charcoal

Coconut Shell Charcoal

Coconut shell charcoal is made from the hard shell of coconuts. The process involves carbonizing the shells at a high temperature in an environment with limited oxygen. This method not only makes use of a byproduct from the coconut industry but also produces a charcoal with a high density and a very porous structure, which is ideal for activation. The resulting activated charcoal is known for its high surface area and strong adsorption capacity.

Bamboo Charcoal

Bamboo charcoal, on the other hand, is derived from the rapidly growing bamboo plant. The bamboo is harvested and then carbonized at various temperatures, depending on the desired properties of the charcoal. Bamboo grows quickly, making bamboo charcoal a more sustainable option in terms of resource management. Similar to coconut shell charcoal, bamboo charcoal is highly porous and can be activated to enhance its adsorptive properties.

Applications in Oral Care

Efficacy in Tooth Whitening

Both types of charcoal are used in oral care, particularly in toothpaste and powders, for their abrasive properties that help remove surface stains on teeth. Coconut shell charcoal might be slightly more abrasive, which could be effective for more stubborn stains but also means it should be used cautiously to avoid enamel erosion. Bamboo charcoal is generally considered gentle and may be preferred for users with sensitive teeth.

Oral Health Benefits

Beyond whitening, both charcoals are believed to improve oral health by adsorbing plaque and microorganisms that cause bad breath and dental decay. However, the higher porosity of coconut shell charcoal might make it more effective at trapping bacteria and toxins, potentially giving it an edge in detoxifying oral formulations.Activated Charcoal ingredients

How Does Activated Charcoal Work?

Activated charcoal is a form of carbon that has been processed to have small, low-volume pores that increase the surface area available for adsorption or chemical reactions. Its primary use is to adsorb chemicals and prevent their absorption in the body, making it a valuable substance in both medical and industrial applications. Here’s a more detailed look at how activated charcoal works, focusing on its mechanism, applications, and effectiveness.

Mechanism of Action

  1. High Surface Area: The activation process involves treating charcoal with oxidizing gases like steam or air at high temperatures. This process erodes the internal structures of the charcoal, creating a labyrinth of pores. These pores drastically increase the surface area of the charcoal; one gram of activated charcoal can have more than 500 m² (about 5,400 ft²) of surface area. This extensive surface area allows activated charcoal to adsorb vast amounts of substances compared to its mass.
  2. Adsorption: The key to activated charcoal’s effectiveness is adsorption, which is the process by which atoms, ions, or molecules from a substance (it could be gases, liquids, or dissolved solids) adhere to a surface of the adsorbent (activated charcoal in this case). It’s important to note that adsorption is a surface-based process, whereas absorption involves soaking up a substance throughout the volume of the material. Activated charcoal primarily works through physical adsorption, which involves weak van der Waals forces. Depending on the conditions and the material, chemical adsorption, which involves covalent bonding, might also occur.

Is Activated Charcoal Safe in Tooth Powder?

Activated charcoal is a popular ingredient in many oral care products, including tooth powders, due to its adsorptive properties that can remove stains and impurities. However, the use of activated charcoal in tooth powders raises several safety considerations that should be evaluated carefully.

  1. Abrasive Nature: Activated charcoal is abrasive, which can be both a benefit and a drawback. While the abrasive quality helps in removing surface stains from the teeth, it can also wear down tooth enamel if used too frequently or if the charcoal particles are too coarse. Loss of enamel can lead to increased tooth sensitivity and may make the teeth more prone to decay.
  2. Dental Health: There is no scientific evidence to suggest that activated charcoal has intrinsic properties that reduce cavities or gum disease. It primarily acts by adsorbing plaque and surface stains, and it does not contain fluoride or other anti-cavity agents commonly found in traditional toothpastes.
  3. Effect on Dental Restorations: Activated charcoal can potentially affect dental restorations such as crowns, veneers, and white fillings. It might adhere to the surface of these materials, leading to discoloration.
  4. Long-Term Safety: The long-term safety and effects of daily use of activated charcoal in oral care products are not well-documented. Current studies do not provide substantial evidence about the effects of ongoing activated charcoal use over extended periods.

What’re Normal Ingredients in Activated Charcoal Powder

In summary, the key ingredient is activated charcoal, while other ingredients are added as binders, fillers, flavors, sweeteners, and preservatives. The purity and quality of the activated charcoal itself is most important.

  • Activated charcoal – This is the main ingredient. It’s made by heating regular charcoal to very high temperatures which opens up the charcoal’s pore structure, increasing its surface area and absorption properties.
  • Binders – Things like gum arabic, gelatin, methylcellulose, or starch may be added to help the activated charcoal powder keep its shape and not clump together.
  • Fillers – Some activated charcoal powders contain fillers like calcium carbonate, calcium phosphate, or magnesium stearate. These don’t provide any benefits but bulk up the powder.
  • Flavors – Some activated charcoal powders may be flavored with natural or artificial flavors like peppermint or lemon to improve taste.
  • Sweeteners – Sugar, molasses, honey or artificial sweeteners may be added to counteract the natural bitterness of activated charcoal.
  • Preservatives – Preservatives like sodium benzoate or potassium sorbate may be used to extend the shelf life of activated charcoal powders.

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