We were sharing with a group how plastic toothbrushes never biodegrade when someone exclaimed, “But our teeth will start to biodegrade without brushing them!” True. Please don’t stop brushing your teeth :). Fortunately you can keep your dentist happy and avoid most plastic packaging while caring for your pearly whites.
Here is the zero waste dental care products our family has been using since early 2018. So far our dentist has been happy! No cavities here!
Every plastic toothbrush you have ever used still exists out there somewhere. Think about that for a second….I’ve used quite a few plastic toothbrushes in my life! Since toothbrushes should be replaced every 3-6 months, it doesn’t make sense to make it out of a material that lasts 1,000+ years.
Fortunately, bamboo toothbrush companies are popping up everywhere! Our favorite brand is Brush with Bamboo, but others are probably good too (and no, this post isn’t sponsored). We buy the 12 pack since it is the most economic. They are cheaper to buy on Amazon than directly from the company, but the packs at Amazon come with some plastic tape around the box whereas Brush with Bamboo ships everything with paper tape and plain cardboard. I also love that they have a kid’s size. The bristles are also 100% biobased (meaning, not made out of fossil fuels), but they are not technically compostable. Unlike plastic bristles, they will eventually break down, but to be certified compostable a product has to break down within a year and the bristles will take longer than this. There are toothbrushes that use pig hair bristles and will compost quickly, but they are from the pig industry in China which I wasn’t too excited about being a part of. If you do want to try them, one brand name is Gaia Guy.
When we go to the dentist every 6 months, we simply say no thank-you to the freebie plastic toothbrushes. By now our dentist is used to it 🙂
When toothpaste was first invented, it was actually tooth power. Over time companies kept adding chemicals until the modern toothpaste was formed. Adding water made the toothpaste susceptible to bacteria growth, so antibacterials had to be added. That made it taste bad, so they had to add artificial flavorers to cover the taste of the antibacterials. And did you know that the foaming from toothpaste does nothing to clean your teeth? A foaming agent is added just for the sake of making it feel like you are doing something important for your teeth. One common ingredient, sodium lauryl sulfate, actually removes healthy gum tissue and can increasing the chance of canker sores!
Now we have removed all those unneeded chemicals from our daily routine and use a tooth powder based on baking soda. At first, we just used plain baking soda. It works just fine, but now we are a little more fancy mostly for the taste :). Here is our recipe and below is a video my kids and I made showing how its done.
- 2-3 TB baking soda (buy in a large cardboard box at any grocery store)
- 1/2 teaspoon coconut oil (buy the largest glass jar you can find, the jars are perfect for reuse. Dr Bronner’s brand uses regenerative farming for their coconuts.)
- 10ish drops peppermint essential oil (Buy at Good Fortune Soap here in Chattanooga, all of their essential oils are refillable).
Mix all together, you might have to warm up the coconut oil first if it is hard as a rock.
If DIYing your toothpaste isn’t your style, then check out Bite. It is a woman-owned company that makes plastic free toothpaste in the form of tablets. You use 1 or 1/2 of a tablet each time you brush. They come in a refillable glass jar.
A word about fluoride. I know there is some controversy over fluoride in city water, but the City of Chattanooga does put fluoride in the city water and that is where our teeth get their fluoride exposure. About once a week, I still use a tiny bit of Tom’s of Maine toothpaste with fluoride on my 5 year olds teeth (not for the 4 year old yet because she swallows it. Kids who can’t spit should never use a toothpaste with fluoride in it). So far 1 tube has lasted 2 years and is about halfway gone, not too bad for a little peace of mind.
Update: After learning more about the water quality of TN American Water, which is Chattanooga’s source for drinking water, we have decided to start filtering our water with a Berkey filter. There were eight different contaminants in the water that exceeded safety limits. This means we no longer have fluoride in our drinking water and will need some kind of topical fluoride in our toothpaste. Bites is working on making a fluoridated toothpaste tab. There are 2 companies with fluoridated tabs, Denttabs and Naked Company, but they both ship from the UK. You can read the water quality report here and make your own conclusions: https://www.ewg.org/tapwater/system.php?pws=TN0000107
Most dental floss is coated in the same chemical that makes Teflon non-stick pans. No kidding! The chemical in Teflon that causes health problems is C8. We know quite a bit about this chemical because of a class action lawsuit against Dupont after it had knowingly been exposing pregnant workers to the chemical, as well as leaking the chemical into the water supply in a town in Ohio. Part of the settlement mandated that a 3rd party panel of epidemiologists would analyse the health data of the town to study the health effects of exposure to C8. What ensued was a massive epidemiological study that concluded there are links between C8 exposure and a multitude of health problems, including kidney cancer, high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, testicular cancer, and thyroid problems. You can read their full reports here. There is also a movie about the true story of the lawsuit starting Anne Hathaway and Mark Ruffalo called Black Waters. A recommend giving it a watch before you floss your teeth again.
Having a chemical in your water supply is different from having it coat your floss, but I still don’t want to take the chance I will give my kids kidney cancer by cleaning their teeth.
Fortunately there are many many options for safe and plastic free floss. I recommend a bamboo-based dental floss. There are several companies, just google it on Amazon. The Bite company mentioned above has a corn-based floss. All of them come in a refillable glass jar with a metal lid. When it is out, you can order a refill that comes in biodegradable packaging.
Honestly, you don’t really need mouthwash, but sometimes it’s nice to use before date night 🙂 I mix up my own mouthwash with this recipe:
- 1 cup water
- 2TB baking soda (more or less, depending on your preference)
- 1-2 teaspoons aloe vera (Optional, my supply is from a plant I have growing on the windowsill)
- 10 drops peppermint oil
This will keep for about 1 month, longer without the aloe vera. I usually make a small amount at a time since we don’t use it daily.
I would be wrong to write a post about zero waste tooth care without at least mentioning another way a zero waste lifestyle reduces cavities. One of the cornerstones of zero waste living is the first R, “Refuse what you do not need. ” For us, this means avoiding most packaged snacks, which are notoriously bad for your teeth. According to my dentist, even crackers are a significant contributor to cavities. I thought we ate healthy before, but I didn’t realize how many processed foods we were actually eating until I completely stopped buying all packaged snacks/treats/drinks. I used to think I couldn’t leave the house without a Honey & Oats granola bar (which are terrible for teeth)! Now, our kids eat apples, carrots, or oranges for snacks on the go. I still make some homemade granola bars and crackers as occasional special treats, but they are too much work to make regularly.
One great way to start dipping your toes into zero waste is to start eating whole foods as snacks, like fruits and veggies, and start drinking more water. I know, I sound like your doctor :). It is really cool how zero waste living fits so nicely with many other areas of sustainable, healthy living.