Sustainable Tooth Brushing: 7 Things You Should Know

Toothpaste tablets, bamboo and wooden handles, natural bristles: plastic can be saved in daily dental care. But we should pay attention to this.

At least twice a day we grab a toothbrush and toothpaste and start scrubbing. We can now do this with products that allow us to use less plastic in the bathroom. Seven things you need to know about the alternatives.

1. Wooden or bamboo handle? That’s not all

Sustainable tooth brushing: If this term only brings to mind brushes with bamboo or wooden handles, you are thinking too narrowly. There is a lot more going on on the market, for example with the bristles.

“The nylon bristles of a toothbrush can now also be made from renewable raw materials, such as castor oil,” says Prof. Stefan Zimmer. He holds the chair for dental conservation and preventive dentistry at the University of Witten/Herdecke. “From everything we know, these more sustainably produced bristles are just as good as those made from petroleum.” In other words, they are just as suitable for thorough dental care.

And: There are now also handles made from recycled plastic – or plastics made from renewable raw materials such as sugar cane.

Some brushes combine a wooden handle and a replaceable plastic brush head. A solution for anyone who simply doesn’t like the dull feeling of wood on their mucous membranes – just like dental expert Stefan Zimmer.

2. Germs can multiply in animal bristles

And then there are toothbrushes with natural bristles, such as goat, badger, or pig hair. However, Zimmer has concerns about the hygiene of these brushes. This is not necessarily because the bristles come from animals, but because of their composition.

                                  The bristles are now also available in more sustainable versions.

“In the middle of a natural bristle there is a so-called medullary canal, i.e. a hollow space,” he explains. No matter how well you rinse the toothbrush after brushing your teeth, the inside of these bristles remains moist. “This means that fungi, bacteria, and viruses can easily multiply there.” This problem does not exist with toothbrushes with nylon bristles, as there is no hollow space. 

3. Recycling of toothbrushes remains a problem

Stefan Zimmer has to dampen the hopes of anyone who is counting on the environmentally friendly toothbrush being completely recyclable after use. Even a more sustainable toothbrush is made of different materials. “It’s never possible to completely separate them. Often, for example, the bristles are attached to the bristle head with metal clips,” says Zimmer. “The focus of these products is on manufacturing them from renewable raw materials – and that is something, of course.”

                                 Toothbrushes made from renewable raw materials – that’s what the manufacturers are working on.

By the way: The best way to dispose of the environmentally friendly toothbrush is usually written on the packaging. For wooden and bamboo toothbrushes, it is a good idea to break off or cut off the brush head, says BUND. The handle can be put in the organic waste, the rest is disposed of in the residual waste.  

4. Use up plastic products first, then switch

Are you itching to switch to sustainable alternatives as soon as possible? The best thing to do is to use up the plastic toothbrushes that are still waiting in the bathroom cabinet or toothbrush cup. Throwing away plastic products that can still be used is anything but sustainable, warns BUND. 

5. Toothpaste tablets: It’s worth looking at the ingredients

Of course, you don’t just need a brush to brush your teeth, you also need toothpaste. Or the sustainable option: toothpaste tablets. They are a dry product, so they can be sold and bought in paper bags. Or you can fill them into a jar at the packaging-free store.

The tablets are chewed in the mouth and, when combined with saliva, form a paste that can be used to scrub the teeth. But can they replace toothpaste when it comes to dental health? According to Stefan Zimmer, that depends on what exactly is in the tablets. To be more precise: whether fluoride appears in the list of ingredients. 

Fluorides form a kind of protective film around the teeth and thus protect against tooth decay. However, looking at the range of toothpaste tablets, Zimmer observes: “Unfortunately, they often do not contain fluoride – and then a toothpaste tablet cannot be good.” 

And what if manufacturers use substances that they advertise as an equivalent replacement for fluoride? Even then, the dentist remains skeptical: “There is no convincing evidence for this.”

6. For enough fluoride: brush with more than one tablet

Anyone who has discovered tablets containing fluoride should know that one of them may not be enough to brush their teeth if they want to protect themselves well against tooth decay. “With oral hygiene products, it’s not just the concentration of fluoride that matters, but also how much of it you put in your mouth,” says Zimmer, who is also the spokesperson for the Information Center for Caries Prevention.

The rule for toothpaste is: from the age of six, you should squeeze a line of 1 to 1.5 centimeters of toothpaste onto the brush. “That’s the same as one to 1.5 grams,” says Zimmer. He weighed it and found that cleaning tablets often only weigh a third of a gram. 

This means that if you only brush with one tablet, there may be less fluoride involved than is necessary for good protection against tooth decay. “So you would probably have to brush with three to five tablets to get the same fluoride as toothpaste,” says Zimmer.  

7. Cleaning tablets foam less – or not at all

Even if dental tablets are intended to replace toothpaste, the feeling in the mouth is different. This is because the tablets do not foam or only foam very slightly. 

Without foam, however, we quickly find ourselves brushing our teeth with less stamina. Stefan Zimmer refers to an older study that showed this. “When it foams, something is happening. That motivates you to brush for longer.” If you switch to cleaning tablets and want to be on the safe side, you can run a timer or stopwatch at the same time.