The toothbrush is arguably one of the greatest and oldest inventions known to man.Yes, I know there’s the wheel and the internet and the chocolate chip cookie to consider, but surveys have been done where people valued their toothbrush more than their cell phones and cars. The thing about it is, we’re supposed to change them every 4-6 months and that means that there’s a lot of toothbrushes that get thrown away.
National geographic did a really interesting series on the story of plastic and it’s effect on the environment and one of their pieces was on toothbrushes.There’s a lot to take away there, but there were a few things I wanted to touch on. This is definitely one of those cases where, as a dentist, I have to place my professional standards first. No matter what–my first priority as a dentist is to emphasize plaque control to decrease or eliminate disease.
That being said, is there an alternative to the traditional toothbrush that meets the standards of plaque removal and enamel wear? The answer is a resounding case of, “nobody knows.”I looked for research on whether sustainable alternatives to the traditional (plastic handle, nylon bristle) toothbrush get the job done without hurting the teeth and/or gums and there wasn’t a whole lot out there. One article (I only found one!) that measured plaque levels and gum health. That’s hardly an acceptable sample size.
There’s a lot of science in dentistry.Sure we’re not running centrifuges or calculating solution densities to identify them, but a lot of cavity control is understanding how to manage plaque and bacteria that damage our teeth. The thing about science is, you can’t pick and choose–if the results are there and they’re reproducible, reliable, and valid then it’s hard to argue the facts. One thing that article establishes is that we have to figure out how to keep toothbrushes out of the landfill. I did notice in the article that it said that toothbrushes can’t be recycled and that’s probably true for your curbside pickup, but there is a way to recycle your oral care products. Colgate and Terracycle have teamed up and have a recycling program for oral care products. Until there’s more research out there that supports sustainable alternatives to the traditional oral care products, I won’t feel confident endorsing them. For now, if it’s important to you, bring your oral care products and their packaging by the office and we’ll ship it off to Terracycle. It’s not a whole lot, but change starts small. Contact us if you have any questions about recycling your oral care products or visit Terracycle’s page on the program to see what waste can be accepted. Sources: