For as long as I can remember, I’ve actually looked forward to dentist appointments. I proudly wore braces for years, still have my retainer—even though it’s been years (decades?) since I last wore it—and embrace biannual cleanings with the same gusto that’s led me to become a collector of travel toothpastes (Sensodyne Pronamel is my favorite, in any size). The one dental treatment I have never been able to get behind, however, is a professional whitening. Maybe that’s because I’m afraid of what I call the “too perfect” look of professionally whitened teeth—but, more likely, it’s because I’m cheap. Thankfully, the world of at-home whitening products has always offered some sort of solution to my separate but equal desires for a whiter smile and a flush bank account.
As a teenager, I turned to Crest Whitestrips to give my teeth the shine and polish I coveted. There was something appealing about their peel-and-place process — put them on, wait 30 minutes, maybe do some homework, take them off, et voilà: whiter teeth would somehow appear when I smiled in the mirror of my carpeted suburban bathroom. More recently, though, I started looking for a more natural way to whiten at home that would work similarly to my beloved Whitestrips, and generate less waste (after all, every single strip comes clothed in two small pieces of plastic and wrapped in a plastic pouch, which isn’t exactly earth-friendly). Some friends recommended I try activated charcoal for its many purported oral benefits, which include removing toxins, deodorizing, and whitening. So I took to the internet, searching for charcoal-based toothpastes, polishes, or powders, and wound up on a page featuring what would soon become my new Holy Grail for at-home whitening: Living Earth’s Black Pearl Teeth Whitening Powder.
The first thing my eye for a bargain noticed was its price tag of $16, about half the price of a pack of ten Whitestrips. The second thing I noticed: The stuff, made with activated coconut charcoal, had more than 1,400 reviews on Amazon (75 percent of which gave it five stars). A deep dive into the comments revealed that users praised its “almost immediate results” and ability to make teeth “two shades whiter after one brush.” Still, I was skeptical after reading that some activated-charcoal powders could wear away my teeth’s enamel, so I used a well-timed appointment with my dentist at 23rd Street Dental Associates to ask if she thought Living Earth’s powder would cause damage down the line. She told me it would be fine to use regularly as a supplement to my routine of brushing (twice a day) with toothpaste and flossing, so I ordered a jar.
Potential buyers take note: The irony about the powder is that it’ll likely cause a bit of a mess before you notice any of its cleaning ability. The stuff is pure black, so if you don’t open it carefully, it can spill and muck up your bathroom sink or floor (but a quick wipe should remove any unwanted soot). Once I learned to handle it with some care, however, I quickly developed a rhythm. Before brushing with toothpaste, I wet my toothbrush, dip it in the powder, and brush my teeth for the recommended two minutes. The powder turns your teeth black, so it’s better to use it before brushing with toothpaste, which then helps to rinse out the charcoal. After a few consecutive days of brushing with powder then toothpaste, my teeth appeared to go from a coffee-stained beige to a shinier ivory. And after repeating this routine every day for two weeks, all remnants of that beige color were gone, and a co-worker actually complimented me on how white my teeth looked. I knew I found a winner.
Since then, I’ve dialed down my usage to every other day, without noticing much change in my teeth’s whiteness (I’ve been using the stuff for about two months, and I’d say have about two more weeks before I’ll need another jar). I’d never thought I’d say this, but the powder’s got me hooked.
More Strat (and dentist) approved at-home whiteners
Opalescence Go 15% Kit
New York cosmetic dentist Edward A. Alvarez told writer Lori Keong that Opalescence Go’s whitening kit, which contains hydrogen peroxide, yields “results that are almost as good as [those of] custom bleaching trays.”
Philips Zoom Day White 14 % Syringe Pack
Dentist Mandy Kouroshnia of New York’s Unison Family Dental also recommended Zoom’s Day White and Nite Bright kits to Keong, but noted that your dentist will need to fit you for a custom bleaching tray before you can use it.
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