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Is Zero Waste in Oral Hygiene Possible?

Photo: Courtesy of Jon Tyson

Bans on plastic straws, switching to reusable water bottles, and swapping plastic shopping bags for paper or canvas totes are all initiatives aimed at reducing consumer waste. But single use plastics are still ubiquitous. One example: plastic toothbrushes.  

The threat of climate change isn’t getting any less serious, and people all over the globe are looking for ways to reduce their own footprint. Mountains of discarded plastic, which never really decomposes, are still filling up our landfills. That’s why some companies and organizations are innovating sustainable options for oral hygiene products, from eco-friendly toothbrushes to small changes at the dentist’s office.

The little things

Organizations like the Eco-Dentistry Association are encouraging dental practitioners and dental patients alike to take small steps toward greener offices and practices. Such steps include reducing packaging and paper waste by purchasing often-used items in bulk, requesting supply companies to combine orders which cut down on shipping boxes, and implementing digital technology for imaging, impressions, charting, and marketing. 

Offices can also switch to reusable materials instead of paper or plastic, further cutting down on waste. These can include cloth sterilization bags and patient barriers, cloth lab coats instead of paper, stainless steel impression trays and suction tips, and glass or ceramic rinse and swish cups. The organization also advises dentist offices to participate in recycling programs, though noting recycling is less effective at reducing waste than other practices. 

Green for your teeth

What’s more, establishing sustainable dentistry practices will attract patients who are equally worried about slowing the progress of climate change. 

For these patients, many companies are creating greener oral hygiene products including toothbrushes, toothpaste, and dental floss. None of these products is as widely available in convenience stores as plastic, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t available. 

One such sustainable toothbrush option is the award-winning Preserve toothbrush, the world’s first toothbrush handle made entirely of recycled plastic from things like discarded yogurt cups. According to an article in The Guardian, Preserve is now the top-selling toothbrush in the United States’ natural grocery market, and can be found in a variety of mainstream retailers, including Walmart and Target. 

The company also operates a Gimme 5 recycling program, wherein consumers can either mail-in or drop off at participating Whole Foods stores their reusable plastic, including dairy containers, Preserve products, and prescription bottles. These items are then recycled into more Preserve toothbrush handles. 

A crowding space

Other companies have also gotten into the sustainable oral hygiene market, like the Environmental Toothbrush, made of bamboo and developed by an Australian dentist. Many similar bamboo toothbrushes are available on the market, though you’re more likely to find these models on the internet than your local Walmart. 

Sustainability is also a consideration when shopping for toothpaste or dental floss. Participation in Colgate’s Terracycle program, which allows you to return your plastic dental hygiene products to be recycled, is a good way to practice green oral health. Other companies, like Dirty Hippie, sell tooth powders as an alternative to toothpaste, which are packaged in sustainable glass jars. And some brands have made the environment a top priority in all of their products, like Tom’s of Maine or the Goodwell Company, which has a vegan, sustainably harvested toothpaste called Pacific Mint. 

Dental floss, which is pretty much one-use only across the board, often comes in bulky plastic packaging as well. Tom’s of Maine’s all-natural and biodegradable dental floss, which comes in Earth-friendly packaging, has been approved by the American Dental Association. Other options, like Dental Lace, have floss made of biodegradable silk packaged in refillable glass jars. Every little bit counts when it comes to sustainability. So, the more green or environmentally alternatives we can find for the items we use every day, the better.

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