Using sustainable dental products is probably not the first thing you think of when you consider how to reduce your environmental footprint.
In our efforts to adopt a sustainable lifestyle, we’ve stopped using single-use plastic bags, started shopping at thrift stores, and transitioned to electronic bill delivery. But what about the things that go inside our bodies each day?
We’re not talking about food. We’re talking about toothpaste, floss, and all the other essential oral care products you use every day. Most oral care products on store shelves today are either made of plastic or contain plastic. Also, they’re often not recyclable.
These items get tossed into landfills with wild abandon every day. We’ve created an ecological nightmare in our zeal to maintain good oral health.
It does take some searching to find genuinely sustainable dental products. But eco-friendly options exist for virtually every facet of your oral care routine. Let’s learn more about sustainable toothbrushes, floss, and toothpaste.
Eco-Friendly Recycled Plastic Toothbrushes
The plastic toothbrush is the plastic straw of the dental world. A single toothbrush might not seem like an environmental disaster, but a billion might.
Humanity tosses around a billion toothbrushes every year into the trash. An extraordinary number of those toothbrushes end up swimming in the ocean.
When toothbrushes first arrived in the United States in the 1880s, manufacturers created them from wood and boar bristles. However, the 1930s ushered in the era of the cheap and easy plastic toothbrush.
Since then, the plastic toothbrush has emerged as one of the true villains in our fight for sustainability.
One of the coolest alternatives to traditional plastic toothbrushes is the Preserve recycled toothbrush, which they create using recycled plastic plucked from the ocean. They donate a quarter of the proceeds from certain products to non-profits involved in ocean cleanup.
Recycled Plastic Toothbrushes Are More Sustainable Than Bamboo
In 2020 scientists from Trinity College tried to figure out the most environmentally-friendly way to brush your teeth. They assessed multiple options, from electric toothbrushes to bamboo and recycled plastic.
Using life cycle analysis, they calculate the full environmental impact of each option from beginning (e.g., raw material extraction) to the end (e.g., your trashcan).
The scientists found that a hypothetical, repeatedly recycled toothbrush was the most sustainable option, not bamboo.
With Preserve, you can make those scientists hypothetical assumptions come true if you are willing to go the extra mile. You can actually mail your old toothbrushes back to Preserve.
As the researchers in the study above said:
The ideal toothbrush is one which uses plastic which is recycled in a continuous process. Plastic brushes which can be recycled don’t take up a lot of land and they don’t need lots of water to grow.
Not only do you guarantee a reincarnation of your toothbrush into a new product. You also get a discount from Preserve for your next purchase.
Biodegradable Bamboo Toothbrushes
Wood and bamboo are biodegradable and thus compostable. You can avoid dental waste getting buried in landfills or burned in an incinerator, plus support smaller eco-minded companies.
Isshah sells bamboo toothbrushes with BPA-free bristles imported from Germany. Selling colorful fun kids toothbrushes, charcoal-infused adult toothbrushes, among other sustainable dental products, Issah is a great source for alternatives to generic plastic toothbrushes.
Another option is the Vivago biodegradable bamboo toothbrush, which the company advertises is compostable.
They also ship their toothbrushes in recyclable cardboard boxes. It stinks when you buy an eco-friendly product only to discover its maker housed it in a big bag of single-use plastic.
If you plan compost bamboo toothbrushes in your backyard compost bin, snap off the heads before you do so since they are likely biodegradable, except for Gaia Guy below. The microorganisms chowing down on your garbage will nibble on those bamboo handles for quite a long time. Breaking the handles into smaller pieces will speed up your composting process.
With the help of a solid metal hammer you can easily smash up the handles into smaller slivers. If you do not want to wait for them to break down in your compost bin, another option is to simply bury the shards of bamboo in a shallow hole.
You can jump back into the 19th century with a set of bamboo & boar bristle toothbrushes from Gaia Guy. These blasts from the past are 100 percent biodegradable and free of nylon, plastic, and other unsustainable materials.
If you’re a vegan, the company also makes a version free of animal products.
Earth-Friendly Dental Floss
Floss offers an easy way to prevent gum disease, but endless yards of plastic floss, as well as the plastic containers, end up in landfills every year. At one time, consumers derided sustainable floss for its lack of strength because it would break easily when used too vigorously.
Fortunately, sustainable floss manufacturers have strengthened their floss considerably in the past few years. But to be clear, the silk-based floss we’ve tested definitely snaps more frequently than plastic-based floss.
Our experience is natural flosses can break roughly 10 percent of the time but it really is not a big issue. Just toss the used floss in your little bathroom compost bin and keep going.
You might add an extra 20 seconds to your routine, at most. Definitely not a reason to avoid natural flosses.
Also, the good news is the market has plenty of excellent plastic-free options to try out.
Dental Lace is one of our favorites. It is completely compostable. Rather than burying small plastic strings in a landfill after each floss, just toss it in your compost bin.
For all you compost nerds, you can also consider Dental Lace a “brown” or carbon-rich material. But you’ll need to be flossing up a storm to ensure it balances out your “greens,” or nitrogen-rich compost ingredients.
As an aside, you can use many other household waste items as browns to balance your compost pile. This includes paper towels (with some caveats), cardboard, and junk mail. Though you need to take a few steps to ensure your compost doesn’t get matted down and turned into slime!
As with the sustainable toothbrushes you buy, always look at the containers that hold your sustainable floss. For example, Dental Lace features a reusable glass container with a metal top (similar to the picture above) for cutting the floss and sells refills for their reusable container.
Eco-friendly Options for Floss Pickers
If you’re a pick user rather than a string user, you’re in luck, too, because options now exist for vegan and eco-friendly floss pickers. You might try the vegan, eco-friendly floss picks from Razoko, which the company makes from corn starch.
Another option for keeping your teeth healthy without using plastic floss is a water pick or water flosser, which eliminates having to use a new piece of floss each time you brush. You might try the Burst water flosser if your teeth and gums are sensitive to traditional floss.
Bear in mind, however, that the Mayo Clinic recommends traditional flossing and brushing for the best oral health results. You might want to stick with a plastic-free option like the pure silk floss from TreeBird.
Planet-Saving Toothpaste Options
“Reduce” is the top of the waste reduction hierarchy. Finding toothpaste options that avoid plastic allow you to stop plastic waste at the source.
Popular options include toothpaste pellets, tablets, tabs, or nuggets. These tiny pellets are solid pieces of toothpaste that you crunch between your teeth to form a gritty paste. Then it turns into foaming toothpaste with a few swipes of your (plastic-free) toothbrush.
Like your other sustainable dental products, it’s best to choose toothpaste pellets or tablets housed in recyclable or reusable containers made of glass and metal.
If you want toothpaste pellets with fluoride, Denttabs is a good option. Plus, Denttabs delivers the pellets in packaging that is appropriate for industrial composting (i.e., not for your backyard bin).
The Future of Sustainable Dental Products
Sustainable dental products certainly aren’t at their peak as far as innovation and true sustainability are concerned. Many products only go half the distance by eliminating non-recyclable materials from one facet of the product but leaving them in another (silk floss sold in plastic containers, for example).
However, it’s only a matter of time until the world’s biggest oral care companies begin to jump on the sustainable bandwagon, too. Sustainability is popular, and corporations want to harness that popularity.
Many mainstream companies have limped to the finish line in their sustainability efforts, but there are signs of a shift in the world of corporate dental products.
Colgate recently teamed up with recycling company TerraCycle to offer its customers an opportunity to recycle empty toothpaste tubes and used toothbrushes.
Or you can purchase Terracycle’s Zero Waste box for all dental products. Or Terracycle sells Zero Waste boxes for any other hard-to-recycle item in your household. We were leaning towards the Zero Waste Box for hair nets and beard nets, but it’s so hard to decide!
Step by step, we can all make a difference in the planet’s future by selecting sustainable dental products. When buying sustainable products, always look carefully at the ingredients to make sure they’re housed in plastic-free wrappers.
The world needs less plastic and more sustainable products. We can help support the world’s transition to a more sustainable world with each sustainable dental product we buy.
Here at R&R we only endorse products we have owned, tested, and fell in love with. If you end up making a purchase through one of our affiliate links, we may earn a very small commission that offsets a portion of the cost of hosting, building, and maintaining this site.