Dental care is a top priority! We definitely don’t want to neglect this. Thankfully, many businesses have been developing more sustainable options for this hygienic practice. We have more options now than ever before to take care of both our mouth and the planet!
Are We Giving The Earth A Giant Cavity??
A cavity is a result of tooth decay — not pleasant. But have you ever thought about our earth being taken over by giant cavities?? We’re purposefully creating gigantic holes in our planet and filling them up with trash. Which is definitely causing the decay in our quality of land, water, and air…
Dental care products, ironically, contribute to a large amount of this “earth decay”.
In North America, over 1 billion toothbrushes end up in our landfills (or oceans!) every year! (source) That same number (1 billion) represents how many toothpaste tubes we also toss each year. This equals more than 50 Empire State Buildings worth of tubes! (source)
And that’s not all! When it comes to flossing, if all Americans flossed according to ADA recommendations, that averages 2,184,000,000 dispensers in ONE year. That’s enough to fill a whole football field six stories high!! And the floss itself could circle the Earth 1,246 times! (source)
This is only accounting for America, folks. We haven’t even covered the impact around the entire globe. And this doesn’t even get into other forms of dental care waste, either. Like plastic bottles of mouthwash or the little plastic flossing sticks…
Thankfully, like I mentioned above, we have many more options now than ever before regarding sustainable dental care. So, let’s clean up our act while we clean our mouths!
Sustainable Dental Care Options
Before diving into the options below, I want to point out the privilege of being able to choose and afford different hygiene products. This is not an option for everyone currently (an entirely separate conversation worth having regarding our healthcare system). My intentions are never to guilt someone into making changes that are nearly impossible.
With any of the options presented below (or in my other blog posts), please consider what is doable for you. If you’re privileged to be able to make these swaps, go for it! If any of these options present substantial challenges for you, simply do what you can. Know that every step matters.
With that being said, let’s explore some sustainable dental care!
For the sake of being honest, I will let you know that Kevin and I are still using up our electric toothbrushes and replacement heads. We were given these a while ago, and it would be more wasteful to ditch them while they’re still working. So for now, that’s what we’re using. But as soon as it’s time to make the switch, we’ll be using a sustainable replacement!
The manufacturing of plastic toothbrushes requires a mix of plastic (derived from oil, a non-renewable resource), rubber, and cardboard for packaging. These materials are not sustainable resources on their own. And the plastic does not ever fully decompose — it just breaks down into microplastics over hundreds of years. We are becoming increasingly aware of the harmful impact plastic pollution has on our land, water, and marine life. Even our air quality! Plus, people often toss electric toothbrushes without proper disposal of their batteries. This ends up leaking battery acid and further toxins into our environment. (source)
To make a sustainable swap, the most important thing for you to know is the distinction between “biodegradable” and “compostable”. (I also talked about this in my blog post on dog-poop bags!) Nearly anything can be labeled as “biodegradable” due to the lack of standardized requirements. It could still be made of material that will eventually break down into microplastics over hundreds of years. Total greenwashing — not eco friendly. So, you want to make sure that the toothbrush you purchase is labeled as “compostable”. This guarantees that it will break down into organic material once more in a short amount of time.
Compostable toothbrushes are typically made out of sustainable and renewable materials like bamboo. Plant-based bristles are typically made from mixtures of corn and tapioca or castor-bean oil.
Another important consideration is after buying and using your compostable toothbrush, you don’t want to toss it into the trash. It will not compost in a landfill. That setting doesn’t present the right conditions for actual decomposition (soil, water, sunlight, etc). You could bury it in your yard/garden, put it into your compost pile, or better yet — repurpose it! Toothbrushes that are no longer good for cleaning your teeth still make excellent scrubbing tools. You could use them for jewelry, cleaning hard-to-reach areas in the home, the garage, and so on.
Just like the toothbrushes problem, toothpaste tubes are usually made from plastic materials that cannot be recycled and are terrible for the environment. They’re also often made with chemicals that are completely unnecessary for your dental care and have involved needless animal testing.
One of my favorite alternatives for toothpaste tubes is using toothpaste tabs — a single portion of toothpaste in solid form. The catch is that many companies are now jumping onto this like a trend. They’re not doing the work necessary for it to be a truly sustainable option. Like I mentioned with toothbrushes, beware of greenwashing. Always look into the company’s details regarding packaging, refill services, and their carbon footprint when it comes to shipping. One brand that I trust is “Bite”, and you can check out their eco-efforts here.
Another option for sustainable toothpaste is purchasing a container from a zero waste shop that will refill it from their bulk toothpaste. This option, of course, depends on whether or not you have access to this kind of resource in your area. If you live in Colorado, check out The Zero Market for bulk toothpaste refills!
Finally, the Davids brand makes a toothpaste tube out of aluminum that is recyclable. However, you do need to cut it open once you’ve finished the tube and make sure to clean the aluminum before throwing it into your recycling bin.
Recycling, even through TerraCycle programs, is better than immediately tossing your product into the trash.
But, it’s not the ultimate solution. Our recycling system has a long way to go and is far from perfect. Keeping something out of the landfill for one more lifecycle is better than nothing. It’s simply not the most sustainable answer. (learn more here)
One more thing: fluoride. I’ll let an actual dentist describe the pros and cons of fluoride within dental care for you. Many natural and sustainable toothpaste options do not have fluoride in them. It’s up to you to make an educated decision and personal choice. (This is also why I’m not recommending any specific DIY toothpaste recipes, although you can find many on Pinterest! Consider your options and choose what works for you.)
As mentioned above, traditional plastic floss and its container will take hundreds of years to break down. Even then, it just becomes microplastic particles — which is still a very harmful pollutant! The other thing to consider is that waxy substance coating most floss strands, and the ingredients are typically not natural. This all takes a toll on our health, as well as the health of our planet.
My personal favorite floss can be found (once more!) at The Zero Market and is both vegan (not even made with silk from silkworms) and compostable! It comes in a glass vial with your first purchase. Then you can simply buy the refills whenever you run out so you don’t need to continue replacing the packaging.
Other sustainable options are usually made with silk. The biggest thing is to make sure the floss itself is compostable and the packaging is refillable and/or recyclable. Check out more ideas here!
Because mouthwash is supplemental to your dental care routine and not the most important (like toothpaste), I feel more comfortable recommending some DIY options for you. 😉
You can easily make your own mouthwash that will leave your mouth feeling clean and your breath refreshed! Check out these mouthwash recipes and try to buy any raw ingredients in bulk and/or from zero waste shops.
Another beneficial practice you could do in place of or along with mouthwash is called Oil Pulling. This is an ancient practice that’s been around for centuries and is quite sustainable! You can learn more here, but basically, you swish a tablespoon amount of oil in your mouth for 15-20 minutes a few times a week to pull bacteria from your mouth. This has been linked to reduced inflammation in gums, reduced tooth decay/cavities, fresher breath, and other positive benefits! Just be sure to spit out the oil in your compost or trash. Otherwise, it can cause build-up in your drain pipes.
When It Comes To Dental Care, Let’s Clean Our Mouths AND The Planet
I hope this has been helpful to you and gives you some inspiration to clean more than just your mouth! We have been given one body and one planet — let’s do our best to care for them both.
Got any ideas I didn’t mention? Leave us a comment below!