Over the years I've gone through an evolution with my teeth. Ever since my front tooth came in nearly sideways in the first grade, and I went on to have braces a whopping three times (yes, 3 - not by my own fault, but rather a greedy orthodontist that first put them on the top, then decided I needed them on both, then decided I needed them in back) from age 8-16, I've been hyper-conscious of taking care of my teeth. Flossing is serious business, y'all. Ironically, it wasn't until AFTER I got my braces off, well into college, that I had my first cavity.
Anyhow, for years I've been experimenting with a variety of toothpastes, primarily because when I lived in the city, where the water is not fluoridated, I did not make my own because it seemed that I always got cavities when I used fluoride-free toothpaste. It was annoying because I wanted to get more sustainable in this area and was reduced to collecting then sending in toothpaste tubes into the TerraCycle program, not really knowing if those things were truly being recycled or just downcycled (since the site doesn't actually tell you what they do with the products - turns out they DOWNcycle the items, meaning the stuff you send in is turned into non-recyclable products...that's not recycling, y'all). Living on the coast now, I discovered the water is fluoridated, and because of that, my husband and I have decided to start trying out a variety of options to green our dental care routines. Here's the evolution of each category, and where we've landed:
While many brag about using toothbrushes made from bamboo or other plant-based materials, the fact of the matter is that when it's time to change your toothbrush, it all still goes into the garbage, which goes into the landfill. What most don't think about (or don't know) is the fact that landfills are anaerobic, meaning things don't degrade in it. So whether it's fossil-fuel based plastic or made from ingredients that would better be used to actually FEED people (only an iota of the corn produced actually goes in its natural form into people's bellies - most is for cattle, fuel, or highly processed foods), if it goes into the trash, It Is Still Trash. Knowing this, your better bet is to buy a toothbrush where only the HEAD is changed out, cutting your waste by 60-75% depending on what type of refillable brush you are using. And just a reminder? "Compostable" items are rarely if ever backyard compostable, and even if you're lucky enough to have curbside composting, many of those products are still not allowed in cities' industrial composting programs due to how they are made and affect the compost being created (not adding anything to the soil as plant matter does, for example). Read more HERE about the problem with many supposedly 'compostable' products. In other words, Compostable doesn't always mean Biodegradable.
Originally, we were both using the Eco-Dent replaceable-head toothbrushes (left) which we LOVE as it literally was just the front part of the inch-long brush that popped out. However, the company appears to be phasing them out as the additional refills are getting harder and harder to find. Sucks!
With that, I have transitioned to the Radius toothbrush (center) which is pretty awesome. Only tiny issue? My husband and I usually share our travel toothbrush holder...and this one doesn't fit in with his due to the width. D'oh! But otherwise it's rad, and the refills are available at most natural grocery stores and co-ops.
These days we are lucky to have SO many options out there for eco-friendly alternatives to traditional tubes of toothpaste that are a plastic nightmare. As TerraCycle only sends things for DOWN-cycling, not RE-cycling as they claim (plastic can only be downcycled into a non-recyclable product, unlike glass or aluminum...basically, you can't make another plastic bottle out of that same plastic bottle). With a plan to say goodbye forever to the tube, I wanted to try/compare two greener options: 1) toothpaste tablets, and 2) homemade toothpaste.
Toothpaste Tablets: While there are a variety of brands offering these now, I've found they are QUITE expensive compared to tubes. At $15 for 80 tablets (we tried Crush & Brush), for two people that means if you are brushing twice a day, this only lasts just under 3 weeks. That's $260/yr for toothpaste. Yikes. Furthermore, the products arrived in poor condition with many of the tablets broken in every jar. Lastly, while we tried both the charcoal and mint varieties, neither of them left us with fresh breath, and unless you really crunch 'em into a fine powder in your mouth, the little bits will get stuck in your teeth. So that three-month experiment ended up being a bust.
DIY Toothpaste: This has always been of interest to me, but finding the right recipe was vital. Too many of them contained ingredients that were themselves not sustainable (like coconut oil, which is not produced in the US and due to it's trendiness is being overfarmed and degrading the environment). I also just out of personal preference could not do straight up baking soda and water, for the taste element alone (it's a pretty dramatic thing here at home when I have to chug baking soda & water to soothe a tummyache, haha). So after reading a zillion different recipes, Wild Minimalist's DIY Zero-Waste Toothpaste turned out to be the winner! Quick and easy to make, with a recipe tailored for small batches so nothing goes bad, super minty fresh breath...and all ingredients we had at my husband's co-op!
After buying Eco-Dent's sustainable version for years and getting frustrated at the cardboard dispenser smooshing after repeated use (great floss, wonky packaging), we tried Radius's similar version only to find the same result. With that, we've officially moved to Etee's silk floss with their metal dispenser and plastic-free packaging, and are peachy keen :)
Note: All of these brands of floss can go right into the compost. In our zero-waste bathroom, our 'trash' bin is actually filled with 100% backyard-compostable stuff - tissues, floss, hair from my hairbrush, organic cotton q-tips, etc.
I thought it was important to mention this as part of a more green-minded approach to dental health, because folks often don't think about their part in creating more waste. Two tips:
SAY NO TO THE FREEBIES! Your hygienist will often try to send you home with a toothbrush and floss at the end of your visit. Don't take them! Not only are there the eco-friendly alternatives you should be using like the examples above, but the toothpaste and floss are in sample sizes so actually contain more plastic than actual content!!! And don't worry about offending them by saying no - just explain that you prefer to use your refillable head toothbrush, eco-friendly toothpaste and floss...then encourage them to provide more sustainably made samples.
MOST ONLY NEED TO GO TO THE DENTIST ANNUALLY! Yep, unless you are higher risk when it comes to oral health (smoker, gum disease, etc.), the six-month recommendation is pretty much bunk...and the studies prove it. "In 2000, three-quarters of dentists recommended checkups every six months, even without evidence to support its effectiveness. In 2002, there was an examination into whether going every half-year was linked to healthy teeth. There wasn’t much evidence for that. In 2003, there was a systematic review of the research about six-month check-ups. Mixed results. In 2013, there was another systematic review, and they found that the evidence was too paltry and too poor quality to even look into." (source). Why is this a 'green' tip by the way? Less resources, less carbon footprint, and yep, more green in your pocket (we have elected to pay cash for annual cleanings rather than have insurance...it's saved us hundreds per year).