In continuing with the hygiene segment of Plastic-Free July, I find it fitting that I went to the dentist for my 3 month check-up.
Putting This Humpty Dumpty Together Again
A little back-story and then we’ll get to the point. Last year I went to the dentist for a regular cleaning. I was promptly told I needed to see a periodontist because my teeth were, well, they were pretty messed up. The specialist told me he would do everything he could to save my teeth, but it would require consistent and immediate action from me.
At this time, I was already in the process of greening my hygiene, and I did NOT like the idea of buying or using a ton of single-use plastics. I told my dentist as much when I came in for the deep cleanings, and they were very helpful.
Some things, I ended up getting in plastic. Like a water flosser. And I am staying with an electric toothbrush instead of moving to a bamboo toothbrush. But in most other areas, I worked with them to find healthy and sustainable alternatives.
Today, it wasn’t JUST a 3-month check-up. My periodontist did a re-examination of my teeth. Throughout the exam, he repeatedly said “Wow”, “Really?”, and “that’s incredible”. They were measuring my gums and bone loss, their deepest concerns when I started going for cleanings. Because of my consistent habit of brushing and flossing 3 times a day, my teeth are looking so much better. I am in the clear for keeping my teeth. Which is a huge relief.
Greening My Oral Hygiene
But beyond the super awesome news about my teeth, I was also proud of how I handled my hygienist. My regular hygienist is off on maternity leave, so her substitute wasn’t aware of my plastic-reducing habit. She tried to hawk all kinds of goodies onto me. Which, frankly, I don’t need. I politely declined each of her suggestions, and told her out front “I really don’t like using single-use plastics”. She still tried to give me a “goodie bag” with toothpaste, dental floss, and another toothbrush (because the electric one at home and my water flosser aren’t enough?). I told her no thanks, I wouldn’t use them.
When it comes to our health and well-being, we do need to pay attention to “need” versus “convenience”. My case was severe, and while I wasn’t happy about the idea of getting more plastic products in the home, I needed the flosser.
But what I didn’t need was the excessive products we buy in the store covered in plastic, and used only once before thrown away. Instead, by working with my dentist, we came up with a great list for even the most screwed up mouth to have a positive impact:
Ditch the tubes
Toothpaste tubes are the worst offender for plastic in your oral hygiene practice. Well, one of the worst. Breaking away from toothpaste was kind of a process. I started out by getting tooth tabs from Lush. I wasn’t sold on them, but they work okay. My biggest gripe about them is they still came in a plastic bottle, even though these are infinitely more recyclable than toothpaste tubes.
I tried Dirt, which was a little better to me as it came in a glass jar, but I quickly realized why they call it “dirt”. It’s super messy. I get the stuff all over my counter, and have to clean it every time.
I also tried the charcoal dust, once. And never again. I’m not saying you shouldn’t try it, but discussing it with my dentist, he urged me to stay clear of it. Plus, if you think the Dirt is messy…
On our vacation this past May, though, a new friend made a great suggestion. He told us he simply uses baking soda, nothing else, and he has never in his life had a dental issue. I’ll admit, this method took some getting used to. But now, we love it. It’s super cheap, no-plastic, and I DO feel a difference after using it for a couple of months.
If you can’t deal with JUST baking soda, but you don’t like the other non-toothpaste options, you can try to make your own toothpaste. This recipe is from Dr. Axe, a health professional I’ve taken a lot of advice from in the past.
Homemade Baking Soda Toothpaste
- 4 tablespoons coconut oil
- 2–4 tablespoons baking soda or a combination of baking soda and sea salt
- Up to 1 tablespoon xylitol powder (optional)
- 20 drops cinnamon or clove essential oil (optional)
- 20 drops peppermint essential oil (optional)
- small glass jar
- Place coconut oil container in a bowl of hot water to liquefy it (depending on your room temperature, this may take up to 15 minutes).
- Measure all ingredients into bowl and stir until completely blended.
- Store the finished product in a lidded glass jar.
Another plastic-coated product we need in oral hygiene is dental floss. I need to floss after every meal, or I can feel food trapped up in my teeth. It’s gross. I have my water flosser, but you don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars to save on dental floss plastics. When I’m away and don’t have my flosser, I use a zero-waste dental flosser. It’s silk floss, which is 100% biodegradable, and it comes in a glass tube, which is 100% recyclable.
This one can be tricky. Sure, Listerine is recyclable, but there are other alternatives. Especially with more natural ingredients. Check out askthedentist.com for options and even a few recipes to make your own mouthwash.
I found a perfect blend produced locally on the island and sold in a glass bottle. Find what works for you, and leave the plastic, and the chemicals out of your mouth.
Again, this was one area my dentist resisted me going plastic-free. And after seeing my transformation, I’m a little bit of a believer. But I’m not replacing a whole toothbrush every 3-6 months. I’m replacing a head, which has a slightly lower impact.
But if you are able to, look into switching from a plastic toothbrush to bamboo. Since it is recommended we change our toothbrush every 3-6 months, that switch can make a huge impact on our plastic waste.
And if you are looking for something to do with your old toothbrush, well there are plenty of ideas. Use them for cleaning tough to reach spots in your shower, sink, or other areas. In my garden, I used a couple old toothbrushes to make signs and mark what was growing where. I also know someone who uses toothbrushes for their children’s dolls’ hair. Since I don’t have kids, I can’t speak for the effectiveness of a toothbrush on Barbie’s hair, but it might work.
There are a ton of ways to green your hygiene and stay healthy and clean, too. I’m living proof that it doesn’t take an arsenal of plastic to turn that frown into a lean, mean, smiling machine. One small action at a time.