A Haitian Treasure: Charcoal (Chabon) for Natural Teeth-Whitening

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I know I'm not the only Haitian-American kid who used/uses charcoal for teeth-whitneing. What can I say? It's the Haitian in me. As a kid, whenever my teeth would get a bit trop jaune (too yellow), my mom would chase after me saying, "Here, here! Use the charcoal! Get the chabon!This is how we do it in Haiti". And I'd get really excited. Of course when I was really young, I thought it was kind of weird, and wondered if the other kids brushed their teeth with this magical black rock brought from a special land, far far away....Haiti. But, then I'd snap out of it, dazzled by this cool cultural tradition that made me unique, and I'd get excited all over again. I vividly remember the splashes of black displayed in the bathroom sink after the cleanings, as well as my crazy looking black teeth before rinsing the chabon out. I always got a kick out of that. I still do....
Image from Google
Similarly to l'huile mascreti (Haitian castor oil), there's always some Haitian charcoal lying around a typical Haitian household. I guess because there's always someone going to Haiti and bringing us back these goodies. Luckily whenever I go back home to NY or have my mom visit me in Seattle, she replenishes my chabon stash.

My newest and biggest piece of Haitian charcoal :)
Decades later, cleaning my teeth with Haitian charcoal (chabon) is still a time-honored tradition that I partake in when my teeth are looking just a tad trop jaune. I look forward to passing this Haitian tradition to my kids, if I have any. For now, I'll settle with sharing this tradition with all of you!

Let's talk about some of the awesome benefits!

So what is charcoal?
It is nothing but burned wood or other plant material! Simple as that. What we really use is activated charcoal (activated carbon...hence the word, chabon), which is just regular charcoal that has been exposed to air and steam at elevated temperatures, which not only purifies it, but increases its surface area, makes it better at absorbing compounds, and enhances its overall properties!

Fun fact: Haitians have been using charcoal forever for teeth cleaning, but many other cultures have traditionally ingested charcoal for an antedote against food poisoning which is super cool! In fact, many hospitals all over the word currently keep some charcoal on hand to treat people in the emergency room who are suffering from food poisoning.

Umm, so how exactly does charcoal whiten teeth?
Charcoal is really good at absorbing materials because of its purification process, as mentioned above. The porous surface of the charcoal attracts materials into its pores. Luckily, once we rinse our mouths, the charcoal leaves with all of the toxins and other materials it absorbed (i.e, food particles, tannins, microbes, etc.)

How to use chabon to whiten your teeth?
Some of us Haitians brush with charcoal FIRST and then with toothpaste. Some with toothpaste FIRST then with charcoal. And some just brush all together with the charcoal on TOP of the toothpaste. Try all these methods! Figure out what works best for you.
  1. Crush a small piece of charcoal into a finer consistency, like that of sand. This will make it stick to your toothbrush easier.
  2. Tap your toothbrush on the fine pieces of charcoal
  3. Brush brush brush for a good 30 seconds- 1 minute
  4. Rinse as usual
  5. Clean your mouth and sink really well! Chabon is really good at sticking to things, making it difficult to remove so this step is super important.
  6. Admire your shiny white teeth!
Do you use chabon for teeth whitening? If so, please share your experiences!

Please note: The cultural anthropologist and socially engaged person within me can't help but mention that because charcoal is the product of burned wood and plants, that has implications on green life and agriculture. Makes sense right? And in a place like Haiti, where deforestation is such a big issue, I think it's really important to think about where our charcoal is coming from and supporting re-forestation efforts in Haiti, as well as considering alternatives to the standard charcoal production methods (of which there are many, thank goodness). Lastly, the future healthcare provider in me can't help but put in a plug for extra protection for charcoal-handlers, since a tremendous amount of smoke and volatile compounds are released during the charcoal making process.  It is my sincere hope that charcoal-handles have access to the necessary safety equipment for their health. That is a public/individual health concern!

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The "Haitian Treasures" series explores the magnificent benefits and uses of Haiti's natural resources, which I call "Haitian Treasures" because they are truly national gems.  Naïka in Balance is the premiere source for information on healing herbs used by Haitians. In this series, I explore the tie between Haiti's natural resources and natural, traditional, and holistic healing.

Learn about other Haitian Treasures explored on this blog here!

The two most popular Haitian Treasures on this blog are:

Castor oil/l'huile palma christi
Wonder of the world plant/fey lougawou

Naika, the writer of this blog, has a doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine and a Masters of Science in Acupuncture as of June 2017. Please do not take the information presented on this blog, as medical advice, without consulting your certified health care practitioner. Knowledge is power and your health is your wealth!