We all know we need to take care of our teeth, but have you ever stopped to think about how much waste your dental care routine produces over a lifetime? Old toothbrushes, toothpaste tubes, dental floss, and the packaging adds up. In fact, if you're replacing your toothbrush once every three months as dentists recommend, you'll probably get through around 300 of them in your lifetime.
Plastic toothbrushes take hundreds of years to decompose, so every toothbrush you've ever owned is still out there somewhere, possibly in the ocean. And then there's toothpaste tubes, dental floss, tongue cleaners, and any other disposable products you might be using. If you're trying to reduce your waste - or even eliminate it completely - here are issues to consider when it comes to dental care.
We've established that plastic toothbrushes are bad, so what are the alternatives? Well, bamboo toothbrushes are probably the closest you'll get to a zero-waste toothbrush, for now. Although most still have nylon bristles, which can't be recycled, the handles are made from bamboo. This material is not only biodegradable, but it's also naturally antibacterial and can be grown sustainably.
Some toothbrush manufacturers are developing other eco-friendly options, like brushes made from bio-based plastic or with replaceable brush heads. What if you prefer an electric toothbrush? There aren't really any eco options out there yet; the best you can do is opt for one that uses energy efficiently and doesn't need to be charged too often. Some require charging every 7-10 days, while others hold their charge for 4-6 months.
When it comes to interdental brushes - those little ones you can use to clean between your teeth - you've got similar options to regular brushes. Choose ones with a bamboo handle or replaceable brush heads.
Next up, toothpaste. More specifically, the tubes it comes in. How many of those do you throw out each year, and are they recycled? Probably not, although some mainstream manufacturers are starting to release fully recyclable toothpaste tubes, which is a good start.
Another option is to buy toothpaste in a glass jar or other plastic-free packaging. You might be pleasantly surprised by the choice available if you've never considered this before. You can even buy toothpaste tablets which you simply chew before brushing. Alternatively, consider making your own toothpaste at home. Using activated charcoal or clay as a base, you can add your preferred flavours and store it in a glass jar.
It might not seem like much, but all that dental floss you use has to go somewhere, as does the packaging. Traditional floss is made from nylon, usually rolled up in a plastic box.
Instead, you can opt for biodegradable floss in a glass or metal dispenser, and then buy refills. Biodegradable floss is made from silk or bamboo and coated in a natural wax to help it move along your teeth. If you prefer to use floss picks rather than string floss, you can buy picks with handles made from biodegradable materials like cornstarch.
You could also consider a water flosser, although these pose the same problems as electric toothbrushes in terms of electricity usage and ultimate disposal. On a day-to-day basis, though, they produce no waste at all.
Not everybody uses these, but if you do, it's worth investing in a metal one instead of using disposable plastic ones. Not only will a metal tongue scraper probably save you money in the long run; it's also way better for the environment.
Other tips for an eco-friendly oral hygiene routine
As well as switching to eco-dental products, make sure you:
• Turn off the tap while you're brushing: Imagine how much water goes straight down the drain if you leave it running.
• Don't use too much toothpaste: A pea-sized amount is enough for adults, although toothpaste advertisements would have you think otherwise.
• Recycle plastic mouthwash bottles: The product itself is already quite eco-friendly, but don't forget this last step.
• Use a metal or glass toothbrush holder: You may not replace it often, but every little count.
• Dispose of electronics properly: Check with your local authorities to find out where to dispose of rechargeable products and batteries.
Switching to a zero-waste lifestyle takes patience, but it happens one step at a time. You might not have thought much about your oral care, but the products you use every day can cause lasting damage to the environment. Switching to more eco-friendly dental products such as those mentioned above will help you cut your waste while still taking care of your teeth.