One of the disposable items in our home we can’t really do without is the toothbrush. I value my teeth and would like to keep them around for many years. As recommended, we throw out our used toothbrushes and brush heads every 3-6 months (o.k., maybe I stretch it out sometimes). There are four of us living in this house and if we all tossed our toothbrushes every three months, that would mean a total of 16 toothbrushes making their way to the landfill each year. Take a minute to think of how much combined waste is created when millions of people do the same. Yikes, that is a lot of plastic trash.
Oh, what to do with this is modern-day dilemma? Previous to toothbrushes, people cleaned their teeth with chewing sticks, toothpicks, or by rubbing salt or other abrasive substances onto their teeth. We can credit the Chinese with inventing the first bristled toothbrush, using boar hair. The first mass-produced toothbrush was made by William Addis of England in 1780. He thought there must be a better way to clean one’s teeth rather than rubbing them with a salt and soot powdered rag. The toothbrush as we know it today, with nylon bristles, wasn’t invented until 1938. It was called Doctor West’s Miracle Toothbrush (see photo at top of page). Dental hygiene didn’t really become routine until after WWII. Soldiers were made to brush daily while in the military and kept up the practice after returning home. Apparently, the commitment to good oral hygiene took root.
In the case of the toothbrush, plastic is difficult to avoid these days, but not impossible. There are a couple of options. One option is to buy wooden and natural bristle toothbrushes (yes, you can still find them for sale). One benefit is that they are plastic-free and can be composted or burned without releasing toxins into the environment. The downside is that they can be pricey, and the natural bristles are more prone to retaining bacteria besides not drying as well as nylon bristles. The other option is to buy plastic brushes, but with replaceable heads. I like Eco-Dent because their toothbrushes come with very compact replaceable heads (see photo). This doesn’t fit the plastic-free category, but it does reduce the amount of plastic waste created. In the end, it comes down to doing what you are the most comfortable with. Whether you choose to completely eliminate plastic from your brushing routine or not, you can take a step towards reducing your impact while maintaining a healthy smile.