I am a little (OK, a lot) obsessive about oral hygiene. Keeping teeth and gums clean, strong, and healthy, unfortunately, can generate a lot of waste. The biggest offender is the plastic toothbrush, which should be changed at least once every three months. These toothbrushes are not recyclable and all end in the landfill. I brush my teeth about four times a day, so I go through a lot of toothbrushes. I have been using bamboo toothbrushes for about four years. I use the Brush with Bamboo or Brush Naked brands; I prefer the latter, because it’s a Canadian brand, but I can’t always find it in local stores. I buy soft bristles, since these are best for the gums. The toothbrushes come in biodegradable cellulose and cardboard boxes; unfortunately, Halifax doesn’t allow cellulose in the compost. The brushes are made of nylon, so once the toothbrush needs to be replaced, I use a small set of pliers to remove the bristles, which go in the garbage bin, and place the handle in the green bin.
I don’t find manual brushing overly effective in removing plaque, so I use an electric toothbrush at night. When it comes to the health of my teeth and gums, I am prepared to make environmental compromises, which is a theme in this post. I use an Oral-B Pro electric toothbrush, which has a pressure sensor that alerts you if you are brushing too vigorously, and which has a set timer for 30 minutes per quadrant of your mouth. I’ve noticed a significant reduction in the amount of plaque buildup on my teeth since using it these past few years. I use my bamboo toothbrush throughout the day.
I don’t use mouthwash: I really don’t see the point. If your teeth and gums are clean, why do you need a mouthwash? Besides, I don’t want that plastic bottle in my home. It’s easy to make your own mouthwash using a simple combination of water the peppermint essential oil, but I don’t bother. I do not chew gum to freshen my breath for two reasons: Most brands of gum use a lot of packaging and, further, I have TMJ, which makes extended chewing uncomfortable. I prefer to carry mints, which I buy in bulk, and which I use if I don’t have easy access to my toothbrush. I use a stainless steel tongue scraper in the morning and evening, and I find this does an excellent job of removing any residual odour-causing bacteria.
The environmental impact of flossing has always bothered me. Most flosses come in plastic containers that can’t be recycled, then you need to put all that floss in the landfill. There are more environmentally-friendly flosses now that come in glass jars; you can buy the floss refills for the jars. The floss is biodegradable but the catch for me is that it’s made of silk, so it’s not vegan. There are some vegan flosses on the market, but they can’t be composted. I find flossing uncomfortable, as I have a small mouth and my teeth are packed very tightly, which makes it difficult for the floss to slide in evenly between the teeth. The best compromise I’ve found is a handheld Waterpik flosser. Yes, it’s plastic, but it will last me several years; more importantly, it’s done wonders for my teeth and gums. At my last dental checkup last week, the hygienist noticed a significant improvement in my gums, and I had absolutely no bleeding during the cleaning.
Toothpaste is another area where waste can be a problem, as most toothpaste tubes cannot be recycled. You can make your own toothpaste; the typical ingredients are baking soda, coconut oil, and possibly xylitol. I categorically refuse to do this. Most DIY toothpaste has a very high concentration of baking soda, which can cause tooth enamel erosion. Second, I am a strong believer in the positive impact of fluoride on tooth enamel. I know some people are concerned about the impact of fluoridation, but my research has shown that you need to consume very large amounts of fluoride for this to occur. I am not about to compromise the health of my teeth on the statistically insignificant danger of fluoridation. My compromise is to use fluoride toothpaste in the morning and evening and less wasteful alternatives during the day, such as Lush’s solid toothy tabs (yes, they do come in plastic, but at least it can be recycled), which are excellent for travel purposes, or David’s toothpaste, which comes in an aluminium tube.