Oral Hygiene

Toothbrush, toothpaste, mouth wash…

Toothbrush

  • The Humble Brush (Eur) is made of bamboo, which is incredibly sustainable plus repels insects so it’s grown without pesticides or fertilizers. The bristles are made of Nylon 6*, which is the most biodegradable type (it degrades at the same rate as wool) while still lasting the 3 months one expects from a toothbrush. The Humble Brush ships in recycled packaging, with free delivery in some countries (including the UK) and every purchase is matched by a donation of oral care to someone in need.
  • Brush With Bamboo (US) is made of bamboo and its bristles are 62% castor bean oil. Wrappers are PLA (plant-derived plastic) but they are switching to cellulose which doesn’t involve GMO corn.
  • The Environmental Toothbrush (Oz, but found in UK shops) is also made of bamboo, fair traded and vegan friendly.
  • Bogobrush (US) are made of compostable bioplastic using leftover plant material from American farms.
  • Ditch toothbrush, toothpaste and floss and convert to the miswak, the naturally anti-microbial twig that is still used across the Islamic world. Thanks to the properties of the neem tree from which it is cut, the miswak effectively fights plaque and cavities, cleans between the teeth, replaces bad breath with a pleasant fragrance, and even promotes salivation.
    The problem with miswak, however, is that it is packaged in plastic, which adds up quickly given its shorter lifespan, and I’m not sure how sustainable it is for the neem tree.
  • Toothbrushes made of recycled plastic are still disposable plastic objects that can only be recycled so many times, therefore undesirable. As for those that claim to tackle the problem with a durable handle and “only replacing the head”, one is left speechless.

* To date there is simply no natural alternative to nylon bristles for toothbrushes. Pig hairs were used before nylon came along, but pose obvious cruelty concerns, not to mention they are rather harsh on the enamel.

Toothpaste or Tooth Powder

  • LUSH cosmetics have a range of tooth powders and Toothy Tabs, which are dry toothpaste tablets. Sadly the latter are no longer packaged in paper (due to the need to keep them from humidity), but you can return the bottle to be recycled, or clean and reuse it as it’s conveniently small and watertight.
  • Truthpaste is a natural mineral toothpaste, clay-based, sold in glass jars! “truthpaste is the UK’s first zero-waste and cruelty free mineral based toothpaste. Each handmade jar contains the finest grade of bentonite clay, combined with organic neem and aloe vera, myrrh and a unique blend of essential oils. The innovative formula was designed utilising Ayurvedic wisdom and modern research to harness the medicinal properties of its botanical ingredients.”
  • Both paste and powder are extremely easy to make at home, and only take some getting used to, after a lifetime of industrial toothpaste.
    • The main ingredients are baking soda, and (for paste) organic coconut oil. For sensitive teeth, using coconut oil may soften the impact of the tooth powder; just be prepared for an oily toothbrush.
    • Additional helpful ingredients to pick and choose: clove essential oil or powder (antimicrobial, antiseptic, antifungal, it is found in most toothpaste, but use sparingly); cinnamon powder (similar properties); sea salt (similar and also strengthens teeth and gums); activated charcoal (natural teeth whitener).
    • Flavour enhancers, optional: Essential oils such as spearmint, peppermint, lemon, orange, grapefruit — but only use essential oils that are safe for internal use, as listed here. Stevia can be used as a sweetener.

    Knowing this, you can tweak ingredients and quantities to your own taste and sensitivity. To get you started, here are two recipes for DIY tooth powder and toothpaste, with different flavors.

Dental floss

  • One provider in Germany offers silk floss in a glass container with tin cap: to my knowledge the sole truly plastic-free floss out there. Just be prepared to use Google Translate (or enlist a German-speaking friend) to navigate the site.
  • Eco-Dent Gentle Floss comes in biodegradable packaging, save for the metal tooth, which is recyclable, but the thread itself is nylon. This biodegrades at the same speed as wool, but, to ensure no unfortunate creature gets tangled in nylon thread, cut it up before discarding it!
  • Stim-U-Dent Plaque Removers is a slightly different product that does the same job with probably better results (studies show that of the small percentage of the population that flosses, most do it inefficiently), and a perfect packaging score. There’s a review here.
  • Is flossing even really necessary? Even among dentists, opinions vary, but thorough brushing may be all that is really needed. Here’s just one discussion on the subject, and one doctor’s explanation; we each have to work out what’s best for us. (I don’t floss, myself, yet my dentist is very happy with me.)

Mouthwash

Commercial mouthwash doesn’t only represent plastic waste, it destroys all bacteria in your mouth indiscriminately (we do need some of them!) and contains alcohol, which adds nothing except that burning sensation and a risk of oral cancer. Fortunately there are all sorts of mouthwash that can be homemade, if you really like to use it: here are 5 simple recipes from me.