The bamboo toothbrush is taking the world by storm by providing an environmentally friendly alternative to the horde of plastic waste that is created by the toothbrush industry. In Australia alone, there are over 30 million toothbrushes that are used and disposed of Australians every year. This equates to approximately 1000 tons of plastic in the landfill each year. If we consider the world, the number of toothbrushes thrown away is a staggering 23 billion. This is the resulting number even with majority of Australians not switching toothbrushes as often as they should.
The beginning of the Bamboo Toothbrush
The original bamboo toothbrush was invented by a Brisbane Dentist who crafted the handle from natural cellulose fibre to minimise the environmental impact of dental care. Bamboo is a fast-growing grass, which eliminates the need for deforestation and quickly biodegrades when exposed to the natural environment. If you do want to decrease your impact on the planet’s resources, make sure to opt for toothbrushes which are also packaged in biodegradable materials, such as cardboard. Certain bamboo toothbrush companies will still send you their products in plastic. Otherwise, bamboo toothbrushes are a quick and easy solution to allow people to live a greener life, while not skimping away on their oral health.
Toothbrushes and your Mouth Health
Since a toothbrush is something you are putting in your mouth at least twice a day, it makes sense that you would want high quality, nontoxic material to be used. Regular toothbrushes are typically made from BPA or PVC based plastics. Both the handles and bristles can potentially leave toxic microplastics in your mouth and digestive system. In comparison to plastic toothbrushes, bamboo as a material is antibacterial. This means it can last longer and minimise the number of microbes being transferred to your mouth.
What do dentists say about the environmental, bamboo toothbrushes?
A toothbrush is an oral hygiene instrument that is used to clean the teeth, gums, and tongue. It is a device primarily used to mechanically remove plaque from your teeth. For this reason, dentists consider the bamboo toothbrush a great option for anyone looking to be more environmentally friendly with their teeth cleaning choices.
“All these different toothbrushes with multi directional bristles, materials... etc.. they do not change much, as long as you brush your teeth properly and regularly”
How to ensure your teeth stay healthy
Correctly brushing your teeth is the most important part of your dental care routine, with the American Dental association recommending the following practises to keep your mouth, gums and teeth healthy.
- Brush your teeth twice a day with a soft bristle brush
- Replace your toothbrush every three to four months
- Use a dentist recommended fluoride toothpaste.
In terms of brushing your teeth, here are a few tips that dentists recommend:
- Place your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle to the gums
- Move the brush back and forth in tooth wide strokes
- Brush the outer surfaces, inner surfaces, and carefully in the chewing surfaces
- Tilt the brush vertically and employ up and down strokes to get to the inside surfaces of your front teeth.
So, the key priority for your dentist, is how well and frequently you brush your teeth, along with ensuring regular dental check ups to ensure teeth health. The material of the handle for your bamboo toothbrush is a lesser concern in terms of health.
Many dentists are therefore moving away from recommending the standard plastic toothbrushes and instead opting for bamboo toothbrushes with either bamboo viscose or nylon bristles. Caring for the planet, and minimising plastic waste is a continually increasing concern in this current time.
Chemical leaching from your toothbrush
The plastic that comprises your toothbrush has also been found to negatively impact individuals with acute chemical sensitivities. The plastic of the toothbrush would burn their mouth, cause their mouth to swell, due to the trace amounts of chemicals leaching from the toothbrush twice a day.
A recent study showed that most plastic products, including BPA free products leach estrogenic chemicals when they are stressed.
Many products are now labelled as BPA free (majority of plastic toothbrushes are) this has lured us into a false sense of security. BPA free products often still contain phthalates which come from the family of plasticizers that keep your toothbrush bendy and as a side effect, leach estrogenic chemicals.
Keep in mind that as you are brushing your teeth, your teeth and handle most certainly come into contact when you are trying to get those hard to reach molars. The scraping and biting of your toothbrush disturb the integrity of the material, and further accelerates the leaching of chemicals from the toothbrush handle into your mouth.
How Often Should You Change Your Toothbrush?
Dental professionals recommend changing your toothbrush about every three months, or as soon as the bristles are frayed. This is because toothbrush bristles get frayed and worn which minimises their effectiveness. Clinical research has shown that a new toothbrush can remove more plague keeping your teeth clean and healthy. With plastic toothbrushes, this amounts to 4 toothbrushes a year which are thrown out into the landfill. This was however not only the case, with toothbrushes as we know them only around since the second world war.
Short History of the Toothbrush
Civilisations have used toothbrushes or some form of oral hygiene, since the first known recordings some 3000BC. The first recorded tooth cleaning utensils were a humble chewing stick, which allowed humans to get pieces of food out of their mouth and allow the fibres of the stick to clean their teeth. The chew sticks were rubbed against the teeth and gums to try minimise dental decay.
A bristle toothbrush, like the design used today, was not invented until 1498 in China. The bristles in that time were taken from the back of a hog’s neck and attached to bamboo or bone handles. Boar bristles remained the staple for toothbrushes for the next 500 years when toothbrushes spread from China across the world.
The first nylon toothbrushes were introduced in 1938 and were considered the wests miracle toothbrush, as the nylon minimised bacteria, was light, durable, flexible, and allowed the brush to get into smaller crevices. While it was hailed as a miracle in the time humans did not truly understand the significant impact that plastic pollution would have on our world, now the opinions are shifting the other way.
The problem with regular toothbrushes
The reason that toothbrushes have been thrust into the spotlight as one of the environmental concerns, is because they are an item used daily, and can easily be replaced by a more environmentally friendly alternative. If you stop to think about one of the first things you touch in the morning, it might quite possible be that toothbrush on the side of your sink in the bathroom. It’s a small, cheap, and relatively easy item to replace with a less harmful alternative. As opposed to electronics, car interiors, or appliances, toothbrushes can most certainly revert to the historic design of bristles input onto wooden or even bone handles.
Plastic Toothbrushes and the Environment
Nylon Bristles and BPA, PVC plastics take around 400 years to degrade once they are thrown into the landfill. Once they do degrade, what will happen is they will break up into smaller microplastic pieces which are dangerous to humans and animals alike. These microplastics end up leaching through the environment into the rivers and eventually oceans. Once in the oceans, they are overgrown with plankton and enter the food chain, meaning just about any creature is in danger from ingesting these tiny pieces of plastic. What begins with a small fish eating the plankton, turns into a bigger fish, with each iteration of predicator having a larger amount of toxic plastic in their stomachs. This is because plastic is impossible to pass, and now just about very sea creature that has been washed ashore has been found to have plastic in its system. Currently predictions estimate that over 100 million marine animals die each year due to marine debris.
Can toothbrushes be recycled?
While now opting for bamboo toothbrushes can help minimise the future impact of dental hygiene, what about for all the plastic toothbrushes already on the market?
Due to the various materials that are used to compose the typical plastic toothbrush we are used to seeing in all supermarkets, many toothbrushes are unrecyclable. It is too energy intensive, if not impossible to break the materials apart efficiently to allow for any form of recycling. This is why they go straight to the landfill and have become one of the common sites at beach clean ups across the world.
What can you do with your old plastic toothbrushes?
One of the best ways to keep the toothbrushes out of landfills or even worse, floating around the oceans Is to extend their lifecycle. Rather than throwing them out straight after the three-month period of brushing your teeth, why not use them to clean your nails, aquarium, hard to reach places, clean appliances, or your chopping board.