Charcoal Tooth Powder


Recipes used to be called ‘receipts.’ Confederate soldiers were often low on supplies and had to make do with ingredients found nearby.

Confederates published a fun book of recipes in 1863 called Confederate Receipt Book. It contains a variety of recipes for many things needed in an army camp. One of them is a recipe for making tooth powder from charcoal.

Charcoal is made by burning wood, so Confederate soldiers would have had an abundance of this in their army camps.

charcoal-powder-1053836_960_720To make tooth powder, pound charcoal in a mortar as finely as possible, or it could be ground in a mill. Sift it well.

Apply to teeth twice a week. According to Confederate soldiers, it kept teeth a beautiful white and also freshened breath. Gums also benefited from the treatment as it made them “firm and comfortable.”

Grinding charcoal in a mortar using small amounts of water kept the dust from flying around. It was also easier to use when stored in water.

There are currently charcoal toothpastes on the market. This old-fashioned tradition for cleaning teeth seems to be making a come-back but experts warn they don’t know the long-term effects.

Still, it’s fun to watch wisdom from the past making a reappearance from history.

-Sandra Merville Hart


A Compilation of Over One Hundred Receipts, Adapted to the Times. Confederate Receipt Book, Applewood Books, 1863.

“Charcoal,” Merriam-Webster, 2017/02/03

Mulpeter, Kathleen. “Is it safe to Whiten your Teeth with Activated Charcoal Toothpaste?” Health, 2017/02/03