Week 26 – Oral Health

Sometimes it feels a bit like we are locked in some epic struggle in our efforts to transform the bathroom into a rubbish free zone. We have won many battles: cleaning products, soap, shampoo and shaving to name a few, but the battle over oral health is still raging! This week I went to the dentist to have a filling replaced that had fallen out. During the course of the check up the dentist asked if there had been any major changes in my diet or the way I looked after my teeth as there were some tiny holes appearing on the side of my teeth. It was at that point that the assistant outed me as being one half of the couple doing the rubbish free year, and that she had heard that we were making our own toothpaste. In what felt remarkably like confession, I told all, and surprisingly did receive a type of absolution. My dentist was not too concerned with the homemade toothpaste pointing out that baking soda is still used in some brands of toothpaste, albeit a bit concerned with the overly abrasive nature of the salt. Her main issue was the lack of fluoride, which I’ve since discovered is quite a contentious issue. The blessing and curse of the internet becomes rapidly apparent when one tries to get to the bottom of these sorts of debates and after going back and forth I have decided to put my faith in my dentist and fluoride my teeth. I was able to buy from the pharmacy 100 fluoride tablets for $10 which I dissolve in water and swish about my mouth for two minutes each night. I’ll head back before the end of the challenge in six months and get an update on whether that has helped.

Toothpaste is only half the story though as the toothbrush saga is yet to reach a satisfactory conclusion. In other blogs we have mentioned some of the struggles but just to re-cap: When the challenge started we had new toothbrushes which lasted about three months and are now being used in the laundry for cleaning. Although this only equals four toothbrushes each over the year we are keen to be as close to zero as possible so the search started for a ‘landfill destined free’ toothbrush and packaging. Our initial attempt involved getting wooden toothbrushes from Brooks in Switzerland that are able to be put in the compost to break down. Unfortunately these came in solid number six plastic containers, were quite uncomfortable to use and having a straight handle it was difficult to reach the wisdom teeth. Next stop was Preserve toothbrushes from Boston, USA. They are made from recycled yoghurt containers, are really nice to use, clean well, and when finished with can be posted back to the manufacturer to be recycled into picnic tables. However, the obvious issue of carbon miles became even more obvious with the inclusion of a hand written note from the customer relations person at Preserve who suggested we buy local rather than having a single toothbrush shipped from Boston to New Zealand. Alternatively, we could buy in bulk in the same way we have for the dental floss and become distributors, however, this doesn’t really solve the carbon footprint issue. Ideally it would be great if the local market was able to support the local manufacture of such a toothbrush here – if you are involved in the manufacturing industry feel free to steal this idea!

Continuing on from last week’s medical waste theme, this week our lovely 12yr old dog, Jess, needed a visit to the vet due to a skin infection The vet suggested a course of antibiotics. Unfortunately, the tablets come in a foil and plastic composite, so to show our commitment to being rubbish free we had her put down to avoid the waste…no, no, just joking…Jess has lost her status as rubbish free dog but remains very much alive with a cleared up skin infection and the packaging has been added to our collection.

9 thoughts on “Week 26 – Oral Health

  1. Hi Mathiew,

    Wow Some amazing info on your website. After talking to you the other day and checking out the website I have to say I have been trying harder to reduce my rubbish as well! I’ve also been more aware of the packagings when I do my grocery shopping. What you are doing is very inspiring.

    A few comments on making your own toothpaste:
    1. After meeting you last week, I talked to one of my colleagues at work about your home-made toothpaste, and he expressed concern about the formula, as he thinks the salt may be too abrasive for the teeth’s enamel layer.
    2. Even if you do leave the salt out, don’t you miss the foam? Commercially prepared toothpastes have that sodium laurel sulphate (not sure of spelling) and that for me makes the toothpaste last longer and gives me more enjoyingment out of brushing my teeth!
    3. I was also wondering about the amount of toothpaste that you and your wife use, because a tube of toothpaste seems to last me and my partner ages, (approx. 2 months)and that’s with us brushing at least twice a day as well. Mind you, I use a rechargeable electric tooth brush at night (and a manual one in the morning), and I find that less toothpaste is required for the smaller electric tooth brush brush-head.
    4. Lastly, I definitely believe in having fluoride in my toothpaste, and a lot of the alternative toothpaste formulations/preparations don’t have it
    5. The toothpaste plastic packaging doesn’t really take up that much space, does it? Once you sqeeuze it right up etc?

    Ok, I admit I am a bit biased, but I still think the benefits of buying commercially prepared toothpastes outweigh their bad bits. After years at Dental School and years of going to big dental conferences etc and reading journals and articles, as well as what I’ve seen at work, I have a lot of trust in fluoridated toothpaste. I personally prefer the gel-type formulation, as I find it less harsh and abrasive on my teeth, and plus I like the taste better. I definitely buy the largist volume available (eg. 120g vs 90g) as it works out cheaper, and I often buy a few tubes at once when they go on special, to save on cost. (The last tube of toothpaste I bought was $2 cheaper when it was on special! big difference)

    Will keep reading to see how you’re getting on with whatever toothpaste you choose to use!


  2. Hi there,

    I recently got some wooden toothbrushes online (see http://www.cebraonline.com/eco-friendly-wooden-toothbrush-705-p.asp). They arrived in a little plastic bag with a tie around the top. However, there is a place where you order where you can put a comment. So you could request that they do not use any packaging. The bag it was sent it was compostible. They are reasonably pricey but from all accounts they last for ages. I can keep you posted on that one.
    Good luck!


  3. Noted you have skin issues with Jess the dog, my Jess also had bad skin/fur issues which we controled with fish its a tip from my grandad (both Jess and Granddad are no longer with us) basically keep a bag of pilchards the ones they sell as bait and feed her one once a day the oil and protien will rejuvenate her skin within weeks and she won’t need the meds. As for the plastic bags I have a theory polypropylene or polyethylene basically are wax and burn quite cleanly. As long as you don’t overload the wood burner it burns cleaner than wood does and provides nessecary BTU’s 🙂


  4. Could you grind up the fluoride tablets and add to your toothpaste instead of dissolving in water? That way you would get your fluoride, but wouldn’t have to worry about using both toothpaste and your fluoride mouth rinse.

    That is a really good idea. I guess the only issue is getting the dosage right.


  5. I’m sure that further complication to the dental product issue isn’t welcomed, but…

    Having recently done online-research into dental care I learned that dental professionals seem to agree that we ought to use soft bristle toothbrushes (i.e. ’rounded’ or ‘feathered’ ends to the bristles).

    The whole variation in bristle firmness is, apparently, just a marketing activity. Look closely at a new toothbrush’s bristles; they’re cut off square. Apparently this has a harsh / scratching effect on the enamel.

    Bring on the changeable head toothbrush.


  6. The whole issue of toothbrushes / toothpaste is absolutely shocking here in NZ. We are treated by Colgate et al as mindless morons buying heaps of brightly colored plastic trash with no care in the world that all of it will wind up buried in the ground at a rate of 50,000,000+ per year (4 toothbrushes + 4 toothbrush packaging + 6 toothpaste tubes x 4,000,000 people). Nonone in the Parliament seems to care and the “tangata whenua” people don’t seem to have much concern about their “land” being polluted either. Smacking law, seabed and foreshore are burning issues? The landfilled trash in this country should be THE burning issue.


  7. Follow-up: you can’t buy Preserve products online unless you are in the U.S./Canada. As it is a public issue, in my opinion, the Government (or some “rich prick”, of which there are quite a few here in NZ) should buy their technology and set up a plant here in NZ, as they recycle number 5 plastic as well which there are heaps and heaps of here in NZ from yogurt to takeways. I’ll gladly pay an extra tax for that.


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