The bathroom has to be one of the most plastic-filled rooms in our homes. A recent article published by National Geographic has highlighted just how wasteful the oral hygiene industry can be. In the USA, around 1 billion toothbrushes are estimated to be thrown into landfill in the next year. Australians aren’t much better, throwing out over 30 million toothbrushes, adding about 1000 tonnes of toothbrushes into landfill each year. I’ll bet you the majority aren’t made of bamboo either! Oral hygiene is important and all (and not something to skimp out on – hello, cavities and fake teeth), but do we have to use disposable, wasteful, petroleum-derived plastic tools to get the job done? Turns out… nope.
Considering there are so many plastic-free alternatives on the market now, oral care is one of the first areas of our lives (and bathrooms) in which we can almost be 100% plastic-free. I say almost because no one’s perfect; but we can all do better. So, here’s a few suggestions of alternative oral hygiene tools and practices for you to try out on your sensitive teeth. Plus, I’ve added in their pros, cons, my personal tips and a fun fact; because who doesn’t love a fun fact?! And if done correctly, these methods may actually save you money in the long run as you won’t be buying fancy electric toothbrushes or sparkly toothpaste, and you’ll need less trips to the dentist. Winning!
Image: via Pinterest
- The Toothbrush
Alternative: Bamboo toothbrush
Pros: The Chinese have been brushing their teeth with bamboo for over 500 years. You can’t argue with that! Bamboo is a fast-growing plant, compostable, antibacterial by nature and makes an ergonomic toothbrush handle.
Cons: The bristles on most bamboo toothbrushes are made from nylon (a.k.a. plastic). Beware of false claims. The only true plastic-free alternative currently available is animal hair… so, consider whether you’d rather have plastic or pig hair in your mouth #nojudgement. Although, advances are being made in this area and we should hopefully see some vegan plastic-free bristles coming onto the market soon!
Handy Tip: Since it’s likely that the bristles are made of plastic, when you’re done with your toothbrush (it’s recommended to get a new one every 3-4 months) snap off the handle to compost and put the bristles into landfill. For a chance at a second life, chuck the toothbrush in your cleaning cupboard to re-purpose as a shower scrubber!
Fun Fact: Whilst there’s not too many bamboo toothbrush brands that are endorsed by dentists, Colgate has a section on their website about using bamboo toothbrushes and actually says nice things about them! Lookout!
I use: The Environmental Toothbrush from here.
2. Toothpaste/ Toothpowder
Alternative: Plastic-free toothpowder in glass/ aluminium jars or make your own*
Pros: Usually no added fluoride, SLS’s (foaming agent), triclosan, polluting microbeads, artificial colours and sweeteners, or other nasty chemicals. Many toothpowder companies only use pure, natural and antibacterial ingredients which freshen the mouth and promote tooth remineralisation. A jar can last up to 6 months, so it’s a really good value option.
Cons: Takes a while to get used to the powder instead of a foamy paste. Not great for use by kids, as they may be more likely to inhale the fine powder than adults.
Handy Tip: When using toothpowder, it’s important to DRY dip your toothbrush in there. Moisture will ruin the powder. Then tap off any excess powder and brush as normal. The powder will go creamy in your mouth, but will not foam. For a toothpaste feel and added antibacterial power, mix up a small amount of coconut oil with your powder each time you brush.
Fun Fact: Toothpaste and toothpowder are actually not required to have healthy teeth and gums; it’s the action of the brushing and flossing that does most of the work in removing plaque. Water would do just fine, but where’s the minty freshness in that?!
I use: Wild Search Australia’s Lemon Myrtle & Peppermint Toothpowder from here*.
3. Dental Floss
Alternative: Plastic-free floss made from PLA (bioplastics) or cotton/bamboo thread
Pros: Is biodegradable, removes food and plaque between teeth and is just as easy to use as plastic floss. To make it last a bit longer I wash, dry and reuse the thread a few times before throwing away.
Cons: May not be as strong or reusable as its plastic competitors.
Handy Tip: Beware of false advertising. For example, some dental floss companies promote that their products are made from bamboo fibre, but on closer inspection the fine print will tell you it’s bamboo strengthened with polyester (a.k.a. plastic). Also read the fine print about home compostability of the floss, particularly those made with bioplastics (plant-derived plastic).
Fun Fact: Apparently, if you don’t floss, you miss out on cleaning 40% of the surface area of your teeth!
I use: The ECO Floss from here*.
Artwork: Charlie Podrebarac
4. Mouthwash and Tooth Whitening Products
Alternative: Oil pulling with organic (and plastic-free) coconut or black sesame oil
Pros: Antibacterial, tooth whitening, good for oral health and leaves your mouth feeling fresh as
Cons: It can be time consuming and takes a while to get used to it, but hang in there! This may just be a summer activity if you use coconut oil, as the oil will set solid under 25deg c and will need to be melted (in your mouth does the trick!).
Handy Tip: As oil pulling requires you to swish 1 tablespoon of oil in your mouth for 3-20 minutes, do it while you’re doing something else like combing your hair, having a shower or hanging out the washing. Spit it out in the garden to prevent oil build-up in your bathroom or kitchen sink. It’s best to do it on an empty stomach, so first thing in the morning is best! Then rinse mouth well with warm water.
Fun Fact: Oil pulling is an ancient Ayurvedic (traditional Indian medicine) method and is said to have positive effects on your overall health and wellbeing, not just in your mouth. So, get swishin’.
I use: Kaizi’s Coconut Oil (pure, unrefined, Australian wild grown) from here.
5. Tongue Cleaner/ Scraper
Alternative: Copper or stainless steel tongue scraper
Pros: This method is revered in Ayurveda and is said to be great for overall health as well as for oral health! Great for improving bad breath and bacteria build up in the mouth. They’re also cheap to buy and last forever.
Cons: None! Takes a few seconds to do and can easily become part of your daily dental hygiene routine.
Handy Tip: Scrape the tongue from back to front a minimum of 3-7 times before or after brushing teeth. Give your mouth and the scraper a good rinse after each scrape.
Fun Fact: A seriously satisfying activity – once you scrape you won’t go back! Who knew there was so much gunk on our tongues?!
I use: Black Chicken Remedies Copper Tongue Scraper from here*.
*Disclosure: I am committed to transparency, honesty and finding the most ethical products out there. I wouldn’t recommend a product or business I didn’t 100% support. Whilst all of the above are my genuine recommendations based on my experience and research over many years, some of the links provided in this article are affiliate links or links to my own business (links with a *). For these links, I will be paid a commission on any sales which result directly from the link. You will be charged the same price nonetheless. This is an easy and free way for you to support the work that I do. So, thank you in advance!
**Header image by my gorgeous friend, Michaela Skovranova.
May the floss be with you, always…