January 30, 2021

Is Charcoal, Coffee, and Gum Bad for my teeth?

We asked top dentists their opinion on 3 commonly searched items that leave people and professionals alike wondering: is this bad for my teeth?

Cate Perino

Is this bad for my teeth? A common question dentists get from patients, but what about dentist to dentist?

We asked top dentists their opinion on 3 commonly searched items that leave people and professionals alike wondering: is this bad for my teeth?

Meet the culprits. 

First up, charcoal. Charcoal has become a recent trending material in beauty and care products. Is it the best to put on our teeth, though?

Next, gum. Gum may help freshen your breath temporarily, but is it beneficial for the long term health of your teeth? Are there some brands that are less harmful than others? 

And finally, coffee. I know, I’m sure you were hoping we wouldn’t bring this up due to your stifling coffee addiction. But, it needs to be discussed. It’s generally agreed that coffee is not the best drink for your teeth, but we gathered some opinions and advice to help you make the best decision for your well being and overall health. 

Meet the Dentists! 

These top dentists teamed up to answer our looming questions about the effect of charcoal, gum, and coffee on your teeth. Dr. Jena Lee is an Orthodontic Resident at CU Boulder, and graduated with her DMD from Boston University. She also got her BA from Vanderbilt University. Dr. Karmen Massih is an orthodontist and owner of Massih Orthodontics in Glendale, CA where she takes a holistic approach to treating her patients. She attended UCLA for both her bachelor's degree in psychobiology and her DDS degree. She then completed a residency at the University of Pittsburgh, where she received her certificate in Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics, and a Master's degree in dental science. 


Dr. Jena Lee
Dr. Karmen Massih


Q: What is your opinion on the effect of the following items on teeth and overall oral health?

Charcoal

Dr. Lee: 

Charcoal has become quite the fad these days because it is supposed to whiten and clean your teeth. While this may sound like a great product, I absolutely do not recommend using charcoal toothpaste, or any other type of charcoal/activated charcoal to clean and whiten your teeth. This is because charcoal is a very abrasive substance, and it will actually abrade away your enamel, which is the hard, protective layer on your teeth. Once enamel is gone, it doesn’t come back! The layer underneath enamel is called dentin, which is a softer, yellowish layer, so taking away your enamel can actually lead you to have yellower teeth. 

Dr. Massih: 

Charcoal toothpastes have gained a lot of popularity lately, as people are trying to use things that are “natural.”  The problem with charcoal powder or toothpaste is that there really is not a lot of research that backs up their marketing claims. In fact, most of the studies on charcoal powder show that it is not effective for tooth whitening. Also, with continued use, it could potentially cause harm since it may be too abrasive for your teeth and/or gums.

Gum 

Dr. Lee:

Sugar free gum in moderation is not bad for your teeth. If chewed too much, it can cause jaw pain due to overexerting your masticatory muscles and temporomandibular joints, but chewing xylitol gum can actually decrease your chances of getting cavities! Xylitol is a sugar substitute which inhibits the growth of Streptococcus mutant bacteria- the bacteria which causes cavities. This is because these bacteria cannot utilize xylitol to grow and survive. Gum also increases salivary flow in your mouth, which also helps decrease your chances of getting cavities due to the salivary proteins present in your saliva which help neutralize acids produced by bacteria. 

Dr. Massih:

Gum can be good and bad. If you are going to chew gum, make sure it’s sugar free! Even better, get gum that has xylitol in it. Xylitol is an alcohol sugar on which the bacteria in your mouth are not able to feed. Since the bacteria can’t feed on the sugar, they can’t survive and and can’t produce enamel eroding acids. Gum is also helpful after meals since it increases salivary flow and can help to neutralize the pH of your mouth. On the other hand, if you have TMJ Disorder (TMD) then gum should be avoided, as it will put more strain on your jaw muscles and aggravate TMD symptoms. Also, as an orthodontist, I tell my patients who have braces to be very careful with gum, as it can break brackets or shift wires.

Coffee 

Dr. Lee:

Coffee doesn’t necessarily affect the health of your teeth or oral health, but it is definitely the cause of staining and may contribute to enamel erosion due to its high acid content. 

Dr. Massih:

Studies have shown that coffee can have some benefits to overall health, but it’s not great for teeth. Coffee is notorious for staining teeth and it contains acid which can erode tooth enamel. Instead of sipping on coffee throughout the morning, it’s best to drink your coffee all at once and then rinsing with water right away.

Q: What is your advice to minimize the damage of any of the following items?

Charcoal

Dr. Lee:

My advice for charcoal is, avoid it! There are plenty of alternatives to cleaning and whitening your teeth, which I will list below. 

Dr. Massih: 

My advice would be to skip the charcoal and opt for whitening gels, which are proven to work, instead. In our office, we offer prescription strength whitening gel, or you can get over the counter white strips.

Gum 

Dr. Lee:

Chewing xylitol gum can be beneficial to your teeth, but make sure to do it in moderation to prevent any damage to your jaw joints. 

Dr. Massih:

If you need breath freshening, but have TMD, opt for a sugar free (xylitol) mint instead. 

Coffee 

Dr. Lee:

If possible, I recommend drinking coffee through a straw and rinsing with water after you are finished. This will minimize teeth staining and enamel erosion. 

Dr. Massih: 

If your teeth do get stained due to coffee consumption, whitening gel or in-office whitening procedures can get them bright again!

Q: Do you have any alternatives to any of the following items?

Charcoal

Dr. Lee:

I believe the best toothpaste for maintaining your oral health is any toothpaste containing fluoride. Bacteria from plaque releases acid which will begin to demineralize the tooth; fluoride is imperative to oral health because of its ability to remineralize enamel and make it more resistant to these acid attacks.In terms of tooth whitening, there are various methods to doing this. The compound which whitens the teeth is hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide, which can be found in teeth whitening strips from the store. You can also go to your dentist and ask for tooth whitening trays, which typically has a higher concentration of hydrogen peroxide than the strips you find at the store. Your dentist may also offer in-office whitening, such as Zoom whitening; this typically uses a very high concentration of hydrogen peroxide in combination with a light to activate the gel. 

Gum

Dr. Lee:

As I mentioned, try to chew xylitol gum to replace non-sugar free gum to help prevent cavities. 

Coffee 

Dr. Lee:

In addition to drinking coffee through a straw and rinsing with water, you can also turn to alternatives like hot tea. Although there hasn’t been much research, some research indicates that green tea may actually be beneficial to your teeth and protect against cavities and gum disease. 

Q: What is one thing that many people eat/consume that they don't know is damaging their teeth?

Dr. Lee:

One thing that makes me cringe is when I see people sucking on lemons or limes. It makes my dentist heart hurt seeing the extremely potent citric acid touch your enamel and erode it away. I have heard the benefits of drinking lemon water in the morning, but if you must do so, I recommend drinking this through a straw and minimizing contact with your teeth. 

Another thing that I see commonly is ice chewing. This can put your teeth at risk of fracturing and causing cracked tooth syndrome. I recently read an interesting article that stated that ice chewing may be a sign of anemia. So if you find yourself resisting the urge to chew on your ice, it may be worth getting your iron levels checked! 

Dr. Massih:

Lemon water has been touted as a cure for many things, but sipping on it all day will lower the pH of your mouth and lead to enamel erosion.


Thank you Dr. Lee and Dr. Massih for sharing your expertise, tips, and tricks with us. Now we finally have an answer to the internet’s burning questions about our tooth damage!

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