Search the Guinness World Records website using the word “mouth”, and you’ll get pages and pages of results – over 250 mouthy records. Most seedless grapes stuffed into the mouth: 94. Most lit candles: 37. Most tennis balls: 5 (by a dog). Most drinking straws: 459. We’ll put just about anything into our mouths these days. Now add to the list baking soda for brushing, coconut oil for “pulling”, and charcoal for whitening. That last one; it makes me pause. Charcoal?
Charcoal is the mound of briquettes in your barbecue. Charcoal is the sooty remains of a smoldering campfire. Charcoal is “lightweight black carbon and ash residue produced from animal and vegetation substances”. Yet we choose to put this substance into our mouths? Apparently “Sensodyne”, “Pearl Drops”, and all those other white-whiteners didn’t do the trick. Checkmate. Black wins.
If hygiene headlines speak the truth, black is the new white (or something like that). Charcoal powders and pastes are the trend-setters these days, turning the mouth solid black before – allegedly – turning the teeth a whiter shade of white. The color cycle of toothpastes is now complete, starting with the classic whites from days gone by, moving through the entire rainbow (including the blues and reds of Colgate; the green gels of several), and concluding with a shade the darker side of midnight. But is blacker really better? Some fan-quotes are a little vague: “I’m using this [to show] I’m in the know,” says one, and “Everyone wants to try something new, but it has to be something that looks cool,” says another, and “I’m doing it to encourage dialogue.” Sounds like charcoal is more about image and less about whiter teeth.
Rather than post an in-progress and visually-disgusting photo, check out Hannah Hart’s brief demonstration of charcoal whitening here. She dips her brush into what can only be described as a tin of shoe polish, morphs her mouth/lips/teeth from clean-and-white to blacker-than-black, destroys her sink (honestly; it’ll never be the same again), and finally, shows off her stained tongue; a regrettable side effect of thirty days of carbon consumption.
Watching Hannah’s video, I can’t help picture something entirely inedible dripping from her mouth. Looks like black paint, used motor oil, or the sap of some deep forest tree you wouldn’t take big money to consume. No matter how effective charcoal powder is for your pearlies, I can’t stomach the idea. Maybe I should try it without a mirror.
Now let me admit to a little hypocrisy:
1) I relish black foods, so I have no problem putting “black” into my mouth. Among my favorites: olives, licorice, coffee, and black beans. I also don’t shy away from blackberries, black bread (made with bamboo charcoal!), black rice, and the black of mushrooms. I’m told I should try squid ink pasta.
2) I brush my teeth with a product called “Earthpaste”. Earthpaste (“amazingly natural”) is exactly what it sounds like. Mix together dirt (well, clay actually), a little salt, sweetener, and oil, and brush, brush, brush. It’s not sweet – though flavors include peppermint, lemon twist, cinnamon – and the dry, gritty feel takes some getting used to. But Earthpaste sold me for what it doesn’t contain: glycerin, fluoride, foaming agents, and artificial colorings.
It stands to reason if a) I have no problem putting black things into my mouth, and b) I’m willing to brush with dirt, I should be willing to c) brush with charcoal (A+B=C or something like that). But Hannah’s video ruined it for me. So did the facts behind the teeth-whitening. Yes, bleaching gels abound, but for the most part “whitening” means abrasives. Over time, you’re removing the top layer of your teeth to expose something whiter underneath. Goodbye enamel; goodbye tooth strength. Charcoal, as it turns out, does the same thing, only in black. Short-term: whiter teeth. Long-term: digging into the dentin.
My recommendation? Skip the charcoal. Maintain your inner child. Eat dirt instead.