Why You Should Care About the Toothbrush
Small actions can have big impacts. This phrase is typically used to describe progress or personal improvement. Consider the precedent set by Neil Armstrong when he famously said, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” With this declaration, he inspired countless people with the idea that great accomplishments must start from someplace small and can’t be achieved without patience and perseverance. As such, this same philosophy is applicable anywhere something small can lead to something great. A person starting off their fitness journey, for example, may one day have the goal of running a marathon. Or, perhaps, a single toothbrush could start a domino effect of environmental improvement.
Unfortunately, this concept also describes the negative impact of human activities on the environment. Oftentimes, these activities are normal, everyday actions that are taken for granted. Whether it’s running the water for too long in the shower or forgetting to rise out your glass pasta sauce jar before recycling, these seemingly insignificant moments can ultimately add onto the environmental dogpile. The good news is that many small innovations have been developed to improve human well-being while remaining eco-friendly.
Consider the Toothbrush
The earliest versions of toothbrushes can be traced back to between 3500-3000 B.C., when Ancient Egyptians developed chew sticks. Chew sticks came about by reconfiguring frayed branches into a simple device used for basic oral hygiene long before dentistry was even a profession. By the early 1900s, chemists discovered that handles could be made from celluloid (a strong glossy and moldable material), thereby creating the early form of the toothbrush. In 1938, a company called Dr. West’s began producing toothbrushes using nylon, a synthetic and waterproof material, for its bristles. Thus, the modern toothbrush was born.
The Problem with the Toothbrush Industry
If a product is inexpensive, effective, and easy to produce, then what’s the problem? Well, the issue lies in the use of plastic in toothbrush development.
Plastic toothbrushes significantly impact the environment because, in order to achieve the best results for your gum and teeth, dentists recommend replacing your toothbrush every three months. The downside is that for an item that needs to be so frequently disposed of, it cannot be recycled. Even if in the toothbrush is made from recyclable materials, the components are frequently too small to be broken down in the machinery. With this consideration in mind, here are a few facts to really help visualize the extent of unrecyclable waste created by the toothbrush industry:
- Most of us will replace our toothbrush at least 300 times during our lifetime
- 1 billion plastic toothbrushes are thrown away each year in the US. If you laid out all toothbrushes thrown away in the US in a year, they would wrap around the earth four times
Are there Environmentally Friendly Alternatives?
The environmental impact of disposable plastic toothbrushes isn’t new and companies have been trying to find ways to combat this problem for a while now. Two of the most popular alternative items are the bamboo toothbrush and the electric toothbrush. Both items provide pathways to decreasing the impact of the toothbrush industry on our ecosystem in different ways, but still leave much room for improvement. In some cases, they may even introduce new issues that need to be addressed within the toothbrush industry.
The Bamboo Toothbrush
If the biggest problem with a traditional, disposable toothbrush is the plastic handle, then wouldn’t the clearest solution be to replace the handle with a material that can be broken down? These materials exist, so it would make sense to use them. Take bamboo for example. Bamboo is a sustainable material that is completely biodegradable, so how could it not be the perfect solution?
At its core, the two major problems that exist with the bamboo handle can be traced back to the sourcing of bamboo and the increase that the demand places on the ecosystem.
Most bamboo is grown in China, meaning that consumers outside of China contribute to high carbon emissions from the shipping process. Also, the high demand for bamboo means that significant land in China is having to be replanted which will ultimately end up changing the ecosystem. Always a risky move.
Then, there’s the bristles. Sure, the bamboo handle is 100% biodegradable, but what about the bristles? Most bristles are made from nylon, specifically nylon-6, which is not biodegradable at all. Some bristles are made from nylon-4 which claims to be biodegradable, but in actuality, this material is only biodegradable under the “right conditions.” What “right conditions” really means is that it is only biodegradable in artificial laboratory settings. BEWARE OF GREENWASHING. For your bamboo toothbrush to be 100% biodegradable, you must manually remove the bristles from the toothbrush before disposing of it. This seems like a lot of extra work for a product that you are supposed to replace every three months.
The Electric Toothbrush
The electric toothbrush might seem like another eco-friendly alternative since you don’t have to throw it away every three months; yet, that isn’t entirely true. You may not have to throw away the toothbrush, but you still need to replace the heads to support good dental hygiene. Electric toothbrushes have 11 times greater impact on the environment than bamboo toothbrushes. Problems with electric toothbrushes include the following:
- The number of materials required for assembly. Steel, copper wiring, plastic, and nickel-plated batteries are just a few of the materials required to produce one single toothbrush.
- Electric toothbrushes are made from multiple components. Multiple components require additional packaging. Additional packaging means additional waste.
- Electric toothbrushes are heavier and more complex devices than traditional toothbrushes which means that they need extra resources for their production and transportation.
- Because electric toothbrushes are electric, they must have a very specific method of recycling to be properly disposed of. Again, this seems like a lot of extra steps for a common household item.
The Importance of a Dental Care
Yes, it’s important for us to strive to reduce the carbon footprint created by the toothbrush industry, but that does not mean that we should ignore the necessity of the toothbrush. Clean teeth and gums are essential hygiene practices. There’s a reason that a device as simple as a toothbrush has gone through such a long and gradual evolution. Even so, there is still much left to be discovered. Historically, dental care and medicine have been viewed as two separate fields. More and more studies, however, are continuing to show a link between oral health and whole-body health concerns including cardiovascular health, respiratory disease, dementia, and many others.
Unfortunately, such studies are emerging faster than the US healthcare system can keep up with:
- 77 million Americans currently don’t have dental insurance
- Three times more adults lack dental insurance than health insurance
- 1 in 4 adults without health insurance reported that their overall health has gotten worse in the past year than those with dental insurance
Small Actions, Big Impact
Little actions that can greatly affect your oral care include regular brushing, flossing, and being mindful of your diet. Your teeth are the frontline workers of your eating routine, which means that whatever nourishment you provide them is invaluable in order for them to function properly. For example, cheese is one of the best foods for your teeth because the high amount of calcium supports bone density. Additionally, it has a high level of phosphate which helps balance pH levels in the mouth and protect the teeth’s enamel. Water, also known as nature’s cavity fighter, further strengthens the teeth. Not only does water help distribute nutrients and get rid of waste, but when fluoride is added to water, it will help protect against cavities. Cavities are damaged areas on the surface of the teeth that worsen over time, leading to pain and overall tooth decay. This simple practice can then prevent cavities from developing and preserve the teeth.
Our food intake is therefore incredibly important for building and maintaining good oral hygiene, but it is up to us to take additional actions such as routine brushing and flossing to help maintain our dental health and build strong teeth.
How can Inbebo Help?
So why do we at Inbebo care about oral hygiene and what can we do to help you take these small actions? Enter the I am Not Plastic Toothbrush. Here at Inbebo, we believe that the status quo should always be questioned. We kicked the phrase “good enough” from our vocabulary a long time ago and are constantly looking for innovative solutions to everyday problems.
In addition to being an adorable bathroom accessory, this toothbrush succeeds at being a more sustainable alternative than other “eco-friendly” products. Every aspect from the handle to the bristles has been taken into account. Even the packaging is biodegradable!
The handle of the toothbrush is made from Polylactic Acid (PLA). This material is 100% bio-sourced and bio-degradable. PLA has also been approved by the FDA as Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) and is a popular environmentally conscious food packaging material. These standards should help you feel a bit more confident about using this product on your teeth. But what about the bristles? The bristles on the I am Not Plastic Toothbrush stem from Polybutylene Therephthalate (PBT). This sturdy and durable material is biocompatible and biodegradable in nature.
It’s all well and good to be eco-friendly, but at the end of the day, the device needs to be able to clean your teeth. Both the handle and bristles for the I am Not Plastic Toothbrush have been designed to provide the best possible toothbrushing experience. This product comes in two specific shapes: the mint-colored toothbrush has a concave handle that has been specifically designed to enhance brushing skills for children who cannot easily control grasping while the lilac-colored toothbrush has a curved handle designed to provide the optimal experience for molar teeth.
Dental hygiene has come a long way since the earliest Chew Sticks. New toothbrushes have been constantly improving to provide greater benefits for your gums and teeth. Sadly, your oral care can have a negative impact on the environment with the use of plastics. This holiday season, do yourself and the planet a favor and give your gums a gift they will thank you for!
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History Of Toothbrushes And Toothpastes | Colgate®
Your plastic toothbrush is a bigger problem than you realize (nationalgeographic.com)
How Toothbrushes Affect the Environment: An Infographic - MYSA (foreo.com)
Should You Swap To A Bamboo Toothbrush To Reduce Your Environmental Impact? | by Tabitha Whiting | Climate Conscious | Medium
Eco-friendly electric toothbrush - is there such a thing? - Electric Teeth
New Report: 77 Million Adults Do Not Have Dental Insurance | Business Wire
Toothwisdom (Wisdom Tooth Project) by OHA | Authority Dental
The Best Foods For A Healthy Smile and Whole Body | College of Dentistry | University of Illinois Chicago (uic.edu)
Fluoride | MouthHealthy - Oral Health Information from the ADA
Polybutylene Terephthalate - an overview | ScienceDirect Topics