My teeth are nice. By that I mean they work! I had lots of cavities as a kid and currently I suffer from receding gums. Because of that, it has taken me a while to find sustainable alternatives that don’t aggravate my problems. I hope that in sharing my experiences with many different dental products, it may shed some light on what you can do to improve your bathroom routine and help eliminate the waste produced there.
So let’s take a look at each of the alternatives I have found and which ones you should look into too!
Brush with Bamboo
Given my sensitivity, I knew finding a toothbrush was going to be difficult. I needed one that was soft but I wanted one that was plastic free. I tried three different “alternative” toothbrushes over the last year, each of which had its pros and cons. All of them however are products I would recommend if they are available to you. So take a look and check your local supermarket to see what is in stock!
The Enzabrush was the first toothbrush I tried as it was sold at my coop and didn’t have to be shipped. It was wonderful to brush with! It had soft bristles and didn’t hurt my gums. The handle is made out of bamboo which is compostable but the bristles are plastic. Given the size of the bristles, they need to be pulled out and put in the garbage before the handle can be composted. They are not recyclable. Also, the packaging is not compostable or recyclable. So overall, a great alternative compared to throwing an entire toothbrush in the trash! But, I wanted to search for an even better one.
Next I tried Brush with Bamboo’s toothbrush which isn’t sold here locally so I had to have it shipped directly to me. It is made with a bamboo handle which is compostable and their bristles are made from recyclable plastic. The packaging it comes in is also compostable! The only difficulty I encountered was that the bristles were hard instead of soft. It would have been perfectly fine if I didn’t have extra sensitive gums but I just couldn’t make it work. I contacted Brush with Bamboo to see if they offered an alternate brush that was softer but unfortunately they don’t at the moment. It was the ideal brush that could be completely waste free – but my teeth weren’t up for it.
After visiting a friend’s house, I learned about the Preserve toothbrushes. They come in soft and are made from completely recycled plastic. Additionally, they have their own returnable program where they recycle the used toothbrushes back into new ones to sell again! I love that they are closing the circle and not relying on another company for the recycling. Their packaging is recyclable and they are also sold here locally so I don’t have to have them shipped. After using them for a few weeks, my teeth were doing well and not irritated.
So all three options are great! I would recommend that you first check what is sold locally and then move on from there. If your teeth are extra sensitive, maybe going with the Preserve or Enzabrush would be better. But Brush with Bamboo definitely aces the compost-ability award! All in all, I highly recommend each of these products!
And as mentioned in the toothpaste section, Terracycle also accepts toothbrushes in their program. So if you’re not ready to jump to a new toothbrush or have a stack of them in your cupboards to go through, start a collection pile and mail them in!
Two years ago I purchased Uncle Harrry’s Tooth Powder as well as their teeth whitener. It was my first “alternative toothpaste” product and I was super excited about it! It comes in a recyclable plastic bottle and does not have fluoride additives. For someone beginning to make the switch to zero waste, having an easily recyclable container is helpful. Its taste was quite strong – wow! And was quite hard to get used to. It was in a powder form that you had to dab your brush in and then mix with a little water or your saliva. After about a month of use, I noticed that my teeth began to hurt and were sensitive to cold liquids. I think the toothpaste was just too abrasive for me. Additionally, I wanted to take the next step and find an alternative that didn’t have any plastic either. So overall, it was a great first try but I wasn’t too happy with it. However, as I mentioned above, it may be just the perfect one for someone else out there!
To give my teeth a break, I jumped back to a more “typical” type of toothpaste called Oxyfresh. After a few weeks of use, my teeth stopped hurting and the sharp pains subsided. I was just not satisfied though with the plastic toothpaste container it came in. Regular toothpaste containers are not recyclable in your curb side recycling. There is a WONDERFUL program called Terracycle though that I took advantage once I learned about it. Terracycle is a company that joins with major brands to offer recycling programs that anyone can take advantage of. For example, they have one sponsored by Colgate that accepts any toothpaste, toothbrush, or floss container. You can mail in your items with their free shipping labels or start a collection box in your neighborhood and earn money to be donated to non-profits. The plastics are then melted down into a hard plastic which is used to create new recycled products. For those that can’t switch over to homemade or alternative toothpaste, Terracycle is the second best option! Please take a minute to check out their website and start collecting your family’s toothpastes’!
Even though Terracyle was working to recycle my Oxyfresh containers and my teeth weren’t hurting, I decided to try making my own toothpaste on the off chance that it wouldn’t bother my teeth AND provide a waste-free alternative. And guess what? It surprisingly did well! If you want to see the recipe I used, take a look at my previous blog post here! All the ingredients I could buy at my local Food Coop and make myself! It was rather simple and had quite a pleasant taste – very similar to how traditional peppermint toothpaste tastes.
On my next trip to the dentist, I told her about my wonderful discovery in my homemade toothpaste. She was quite concerned when I specified that it didn’t contain any fluoride. The Oxyfresh I was using had fluoride in it and she recommended I immediately switch back to that because the fluoride was necessary.
*Here is where I want to mention that I know fluoride usage is a tricky subject and there is a lot of information out there for both sides of the argument. I tend to lean towards not using it but I haven’t done enough research on it to know either way. I am not recommending fluoride nor recommending you avoid it in this post. I am merely sharing with you my experiences and the variety of toothpastes I have tried so you can make your own informed decision.*
Here in Bellingham we don’t have fluoride in our water so fluoride toothpaste is the only contact I have with it. Since my teeth are so easily sent over the edge and bothered by small changes, I was worried when my dentist was so concerned. However, the zerowaster in me couldn’t quite switch back just like that. I loved my homemade toothpaste and it felt like it was working! But, in the end, I decided to rotate between the fluoride Oxyfresh I had used and my homemade one. I currently switch between these two every other night. I know it’s not ideal but with Terracycle I am at least able to recycle all the waste. And for the moment, I am keeping my dentist and teeth happy.
In conclusion, I highly recommend you try making your own toothpaste! If that doesn’t work or you don’t want to avoid fluoride, look into Terracyle and start sending in your waste to be recycled!
Finally, we come to floss. The last part of my dental routine! Regular floss is not recyclable or compostable and even though it is a very small amount of waste, I set out to find an alternative option.
For a while I just collected my floss containers for Terracycle and through the floss out (counting it in my monthly trash jar of course). I had gone to my local food coop but had someone missed the dental section and couldn’t find floss.
Eventually though I discovered Eco-Dent Floss. It is packaged in all cardboard so the container can be recycled. And for those that seek vegan, animal free, this floss covers that. I used that for a while and it worked just as any other floss did. I recycled the container and threw out the string.
I then heard about Radius Organic Silk Floss that is made from natural silk and therefore compostable. And as it turned out, it was sold here at my local food coop! The benefit was that I no longer had to throw the string in the garbage but could rather toss it in my compost bin. The downside was that the container was a traditional plastic one and needed to be recycled through Terracyle. It also isn’t vegan. Even so, I decided to stick with it since I am already collecting Terracycle items from family and friends and could add my container to it.
As one more option to mention, I also own a WaterPik that works as an alternative or additive to flossing. I use it because it is much gentler on my teeth and I switch off between that and flossing to keep my gums happy. It is made of all plastic (and probably not recycleable given it’s inner parts) but doesn’t produce trash daily. It is charged once a week and only water is added. It might be something to look into if your teeth need some extra cleaning and you want to invest in a more long-term product.
In conclusion, the floss you choose will depend on your goals. If you want to be animal free, I recommend Eco-Dent. If you want to it to be compostable, I recommend Radius. And if you just want to keep using your old floss because it’s what you love, then at least grab a bag and start collecting the containers for Terracyle!
If you haven’t figured it out already, the options for your dental routine are numerous! I have only tried a handful of those that exist and am sure there will be many more being released in the coming years! I hope the preceding acts as a beginners guide to a few products you can start with. From there, try whatever is local! Find an interesting recipe! And most of all, do what is best for your health while keeping the environment in mind.
Take care of those teeth!