Lately, the big buzz has been around banning straws as if banning just one thing will make the plastic problem go away. Well, what about all the other plastics we use? Disposable utensils, to-go cups for drinks, produce bags, tooth brushes, etc.
We have a long way to go (well beyond just reducing the number of straws we use) and in some cases there are still limitations that make it difficult for some people to switch to a plastic free or reusable alternative. I’m not even going to pretend that I can speak to the needs of people who are low income or who have disabilities – we should listen to them and make sure that they are still supported in whatever way we can (including allowing them to use disposable straws). But, I can share a bit of insight from my own experience with some alternatives, like bamboo toothbrushes.
Toothbrushes have always been an issue for me. I have gums that are prone to receding and I’m a bit heavy handed when I brush. It’s hard to break out of a lifelong habit of being heavy handed, so I’ve always bought toothbrushes with soft or (preferably) ultra soft bristles. This, of course, seems left to the brand’s imagination – what some brands call soft is what I would call medium or even hard.
When I decided to switch to bamboo toothbrushes, I knew I’d continue to have issues, but I didn’t think that it would take me 2 years to find something that worked. I have tried every brand of bamboo toothbrush that I could find, including some that I had to order from out-of-country and as many variations as I could find (soft, children’s, etc.). These four are the most recent ones that I’ve tried.
This is a standard, generic bamboo toothbrush. I’ve tried a couple of brands that were just like this and they typically only had one bristle option (medium to hard). Their children’s toothbrushes are the exact same, but smaller. I would rate the bristles are being equivalent to medium. If you don’t mind the standard toothbrush bristle stiffness, this would be a very good option to start with as this brand is relatively easy to find (even in Canada) and relatively affordable. They’re not perfect (the bristles are part plastic), but they are one of the better options available. In a 2016 post, Kathryn discusses some of the benefits, including the sustainable and pesticide free bamboo sourcing for the handles.
I bought this one specifically because the bristles were “ultrasoft”. While softer, I don’t know that the bristles rate as ultra soft. But, it’s a good option if you like a softer toothbrush. I used this for longer than the recommended 3 months and found that it stood up well to my rough use.
I decided to try this because it uses natural fibers (sterilized goat hair) for bristles. I should have done a bit more research before buying this one because I assumed it would be soft-ish or maybe medium stiffness. I was wrong. The bristles are hard and I found them to be painful, even after soaking them in hot water for a couple minutes. I would rate these bristles as hard or very hard. I love the idea of a fully compostable toothbrush, but I could use this to scour my grout or pots!
This was something I found by accident and immediately went to the website when I saw the tapered shape of the bristles. The last couple of plastic toothbrushes I used had the same bristle shape and I found them to be perfect for me – they clean well without damaging my gums. I ordered a box of 4 (they had a sale at the time, but I would have purchased them for their normal price, which his still fairly affordable for a bamboo toothbrush).
They’re from a company in the States, but they do ship to Canada. The bristles are nylon free (made of activated charcoal and bamboo). The bamboo is sourced responsibly and the bamboo handles are carved (i.e., not mulched bamboo fibers glued together).
While they’re becoming more affordable, bamboo toothbrushes will continue to be unattainable for some people because of the price. If you can afford it, I highly recommend switching to bamboo to eliminate a bit more plastic in your life. In all cases, you can either compost the whole brush or at least the handle (just use some pliers to pry out the bristles). Either way, that’s still a heck of a lot less plastic.
Here are some things to consider when looking for the bamboo toothbrush:
- What are the bristles made of? You may need to remove them before composting the handle
- How is the handle constructed? The carved handles will last longer and have a lesser environmental impact simply because they don’t require glues. They can also be used in your garden (as plant stakes or labels) without disintegrating too fast.
- How is the bamboo sourced? Most companies use sustainable, pesticide-free bamboo, but it’s worth checking to ensure that you’re supporting sustainable practices.
- Can I source them locally? It’s always better for the environment if you can buy something that was shipped in bulk.
- Does it work for me? If a particular brand isn’t working for you for any reason (ex: the bristles are too hard), find the next best option. Finding an option that’s sustainable for you is just as important as choosing an option that has a low impact on the environment.
For the record, here is my current dental care routine and products:
- I brush twice daily and floss a couple times a week. I also visit the dentist regularly (currently twice a year because my dental hygiene routine seems to be keeping my teeth fairly happy).
- I’m using the Truly Bamboo toothbrush and loving it. These are supposed to last up to 6 months, but I’m really rough on toothbrushes, so I’ll be happy if it lasts 3-4 months (which is typical for me with standard toothbrushes)
- I use silk floss (it’s expensive, but something I’ve worked into my budget). I’m currently using Senzacare floss, and I have some FlossPot floss to use next. I also have a standard nylon floss at work that I’ll use up before replacing it with silk floss.
- I don’t use mouthwash. The advice I’ve always been given is that good brushing and flossing habits trump any benefits you might get from using mouthwash. Mind you, I’ve always lived in cities with fluoridated water (in Edmonton, it’s fluoridated to the Health Canada recommendation of 0.7ppm). If fluoride isn’t a concern for you and you still want to use a mouthwash, there are a lot of simple homemade recipes on line (most of them involve a bit of baking soda in water).
- I’m currently using up the tail end of a somewhat-locally made toothpaste. I like it, but I found it to be fairly flavourless, so I typically add a few drops of a minty locally made tooth oil. The toothpaste is also in a plastic tube, so I won’t buy it again. I did enjoy the charcoal toothpaste I tried previously, despite the mess (bonus, it comes in a small reusable glass tub). And, I also like the tooth powder I recently purchased to replace my current toothpaste. I’ll probably switch to a homemade tooth powder eventually (like this one).
- I always have mints on hand. I haven’t found a really great zero waste option, but I always get ones in metal tins that I can reuse. Currently, I’m loving wintergreen VerMints and I also have the Simply Gum brand mints. Both were add-ons to an online order, but I typically get something I can buy locally, like Altoids. I don’t use them daily, but they’re handy when I have a meeting after lunch.
If you know of any simple tooth powder recipes, please let me know. And, for the record, this post was not sponsored by any of the brands mentioned or the shops I linked to – I simply wanted to share my honest opinions and at least one option for where Canadians can buy them (but, always look for them locally to support your local businesses and economy).