Sustainable Dental Hygiene
The History Of Dental Hygiene
You can thank World War I for dental hygiene. That’s right. According to the National Geographic, soldiers needed at least six opposing teeth to eat their chewy rations. Shockingly, many of these young men failed the test!
By the Second World War, toothbrushes were a standard issue for soldiers, and dental hygiene was a must. In the U.S. army, dentists were strategically placed in different units to ensure that oral health was prioritized. Good brushing habits were drilled into the soldiers, and when they returned home after the war, they brought their toothbrushes with them.
Although brushing teeth became the norm in the United States during the mid-century, dental hygiene has been around for thousands of years. In 3000 B.C. the Babylonians chewed on sticks to keep their teeth clean, and in the 1400’s Chinese emperor Hongzhi commissioned toothbrushes with bone handles and hog bristles. However, for most of the world, dental hygiene was a luxury for the wealthy.
All this changed with the introduction of plastic and nylon in the 1900’s.
The Plastic Revolution
Plastic is cheap, and nylon is durable. These two materials were the perfect combination to meet the increasing demand for toothbrushes in the 20th Century. The only problem? Neither material is biodegradable!
In U.S. landfills alone, toothbrushes account for 50 million pounds of waste each year! And that doesn’t even include all the toothbrushes that end up in streams and oceans. Just think: every single toothbrush made since the 1930’s is still out there somewhere…
So How Can We Make Dental Hygiene More Sustainable?
You can begin making a difference today by supporting eco-conscious dental brands! There are some awesome, plastic-free (or recycled plastic!) options out there. And while none of them are perfect, here’s an overview of our favorite, ocean-friendly dental products:
Brush With Bamboo is a great option for a biodegradable brush. While most bamboo brush companies still use nylon bristles, Brush With Bamboo takes it to the next level with biobased bristles that eventually decompose (unlike plastic and nylon). However, bamboo isn’t a perfect solution; the ecological cost to ship bamboo from other parts of the world can take a big toll, and some believe this offsets the benefit.
Preserve creates brushes from 100% recycled plastics. Although plastic is still plastic, using recycled plastic decreases waste that would otherwise be in landfills and oceans. And when it’s time for a new toothbrush, you can recycle this one! Preserve also makes all their products in the U.S., so they have a smaller ecological footprint on shipping compared to companies producing overseas.
Another option to mitigate plastic waste is using replaceable toothbrush heads! Yaweco is a German company creating high-quality brushes with biodegradable, replaceable bristles. Although they recognize their product is not a perfect solution, they believe it to be the best option available given current technology. According to them, their toothbrushes create 89% less waste than traditional brushes!
KMH’s Flosspot Gold uses corn fiber for floss! Vegan and totally compostable, this floss comes in a stainless steel container that you can refill when you run out. Even the replacement roll comes in a recyclable container made with non-toxic glue!
One of the original options for sustainable floss, Life Without Plastic offers another great alternative: silk. Their floss comes in a glass jar with a degradable baggie. The only downside? Silk may not sit well with those who follow a vegan lifestyle.
Sustainable Toothpaste & Powder
Butter Me Up Organics makes vegan, organic, and sustainable toothpaste. Packaged in 2 oz glass jars designed to last 2 months, they are a zero waste company! Try their whitening and charcoal toothpaste for a guilt-free smile.
The Dirt’s Toothbrushing Powders are made from bentonite clay mixed with essential oils and spices. Totally free of gluten, soy and corn, The Dirt claims their toothpaste is so safe you could eat it! It’s also perfect for those of us with sensitive teeth…
Non-Traditional, Sustainable Hygiene Options
Tongue scrapers are a great way to freshen breath and get rid of tongue bacteria. Wowe offers a copper tongue scraper that’s 95% recyclable and 100% toxin free. It comes in thoughtful packaging, and since copper is rust and mold resistant, this piece will last a long time!
For a DIY hygiene option, try mouth pulling with coconut oil. Just put a tablespoon of coconut oil in your mouth, swish it around for 15 minutes, then spit out and brush your teeth. Benefits include reduced bacteria, plaque, and bad breath! Some claim it also whitens your teeth, but we’re waiting for the evidence on this one…
Chewing sticks are just that — sticks that you chew on. Once one end is frayed, you can use it as a brush or toothpick. This is perhaps the oldest form of dental hygiene, and you know what? It works! A 2014 study found that chewing sticks clean just as well (if not better) than toothbrushes. So chew away!
What Are You Waiting For?
Dental hygiene is so ingrained in our daily lives that we hardly ever think twice about the tools and products we use. But even something as innocuous as a toothbrush can leave a permanent scar on our earth. Fortunately, there are some incredible companies out there providing better, more sustainable dental hygiene options. With some simple changes, you can make a radical difference and inspire others to do the same!
So let’s take care of those pearly whites and our planet at the same time. What are you waiting for?