The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish
June 24, 2008

Confession: I just bought a tube of toothpaste!


No Impact Man did it.

Life Less Plastic did it.

Sustainable Dave did it.

Now I have gone and done it. And in a plastic tube, to boot.

Why did I buy toothpaste in the first place? Two reasons. First, my baking soda, wintergreen oil, stevia powder combination had been working fine for many months. But in the last few weeks, I’ve been feeling like it’s too harsh on my gums. My mouth feels kind of sore after using it. And then last week, during my radio interview on Tomorrow Matters, one of the callers said she worked in a dental office and believed that plain baking soda is too abrasive. I had heard this before, but hadn’t really believed it until I started noticing irritation in my own mouth.

Second, my dentist really wants me to have some fluoride on my teeth, and since giving up both toothpaste and Act fluoride rinse, I wasn’t giving them the treatment he thought they should have. Yes, I know there’s fluoride in our drinking water. But is it sufficient? Don’t know. Just know my mouth has not been very happy in a while.

So why didn’t I buy the metal Tom’s of Maine tube instead of the plastic Trader Joe’s? Because I compared the ingredients in the two toothpastes and liked those in the Trader Joe’s brand better. It doesn’t contain SLS, which the Tom’s of Maine right next to it did, and it also contains some baking soda (I bought the All Natural, Anticavity, Peppermint Toothpaste with Baking Soda and Fluoride) which the Tom’s of Maine didn’t.


Life Without Plastic

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Okay, before you jump on me, I didn’t realize at the time that there were so many other Tom’s of Maine choices in other stores. After buying the Trader Joe’s toothpaste, I went next door to the brand new Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy and found that Tom’s of Maine has put out a few SLS-free versions. Still, I did want some baking soda, which these lack. Blah blah blah.

The ins and outs of which toothpaste to buy are not really the point of this post. I’m sure there are all kinds of options and better recipes I could have tried and other opinions about what I should put in my mouth. And, as always, I’m happy to hear everyone’s comments about that. But the main discovery I made, which seems like it should be quite obvious but was a TOTAL BREAKTHROUGH FOR ME was this:

You don’t need to use very much at all. Even this tiny amount, about a quarter of a pea, is probably too much. I’ll bet I can make this one tube last a whole year. Or longer. After using baking soda for nearly a year, the amount of suds I get from this baby bit of toothpaste feels like washing my mouth with soap.

And I realized that in all my blogging about ways to reduce our impact on the earth, and specifically the amount of plastic we use, I don’t think I ever wrote about simply using less of everything. I’m pretty sure Green Bean has a post on this very topic. Yep, she does. It’s right here. But it wasn’t until I decided to break down and break my no-plastic rule that I actually thought about how using less of everything can help me lessen the environmental impact of that decision.

Oh, I have so much to learn and so far to go! Thanks to everyone who puts up with my baby steps and fickle nature. And speaking of fickle, I’ve started using the Urban Compost Tumbler again after whining about how sucky it was. More on that in a future post.

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23 Comments on "Confession: I just bought a tube of toothpaste!"

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7 years 11 months ago

Also, I agree with Steve and Paula about glycerine. It can also be tricky for vegans to find vegetable glycerine/toothpaste. I find that coconut oil (or another oil mixed with cornstarch) does just fine and leaves my teeth feeling great.

7 years 11 months ago
I have found that calcium carbonate is much less abrasive than baking soda and makes a great toothpaste. (It’s also the main ingredient in a lot of the natural toothpastes available) I use:2parts Calcium Carbonate1part Baking Soda1-3 parts Organic Coconut Oila drop or two of Spearmint/Peppermint oil and a pinch of stevia to sweeten I usually just add as I go to get the consistency I like. My 6yr old will even use it, although it isn’t as sweet tasting as store bought toothpaste! And now that you have that tube as a backup, you can try out some new… Read more »
Steve and Paula
8 years 25 days ago

just wandering through. Did you know flouride is a poisen?
You can actually heal cavities and prevent all possible future ones by taking high vitamin cod liver oil with high vitamin butter oil?
The reason we avoid comercial toothpaste is because of the glycerine in it. It coats the teeth, and prevents remineralization of the enamal.
Just some thoughts.
check out

8 years 1 month ago

I came across your blog in the results for a search for tooth powder recipes. I gave up commercial toothpaste (Tom’s) after learning that the peppermint, cinnamon and spearmint oils were irritating my salivary glands. I’ve been using baking soda and salt tooth powder without a problem for several months now. It’s nice to know the other benefits – I can carry it on airplanes and reduce my plastic consumption.

8 years 3 months ago

I went back to using toothpaste too. Even though I didn’t experience anything negative from using baking soda…I got a bit nervous and decided to use toothpaste. I bought Tom’s.

Stretch Mark Mama
8 years 3 months ago

I tried Tom’s toothpaste as well, but got frustrated over the aluminum (is that what it is?) package. Great that it is recyclable and not plastic, but boy, was it ever messy. Maybe that’s because I had two boys putting the paste on their own brushes, what do I know?

8 years 4 months ago
Thanks for this Beth. I am a bicarb + mint EO fan myself – nothing gets my teeth cleaner and, strange as it might sound, the skin inside my mouth reacts to almost every toothpaste on the market – it literally starts ‘tearing off’ 5 minutes after brushing (sounds gross, but it doesn’t hurt or anything). I only know 1 other person this happens to. Now, I’ve always had a little concern that I’m brushing away my tooth enamel with the straight bicarb, so I like the sound of that home-made toothpaste recipe … I’ll give it a go. The… Read more »
Condo Blues
8 years 4 months ago

I like your comments about using what we have to buy less. I think one point we should embrace is change to as many green practises we can change (even if it isn’t always the easist way to do things) and use as little of the non-green options that we cannont change because unfortunately we are not a totally plastic free society (yet.)

8 years 4 months ago
Oh, I’m so glad I’m not the only one that still hasn’t found the perfect toothpaste solution! After reading that even FPF bought toothpaste and reading all these comments, I feel better. I have been feeling so quilty thinking everyone else has moved to baking soda/salt/homemade mixes and when I try that I have a bad taste in my mouth that makes me think I have bad breath. This TJ’s toothpaste is the same one I bought recently. I have been using it at night and still using Colgate in the morning (still scared of bad breath). You’ll have to… Read more »
8 years 4 months ago
I always buy the cheapest variation of Colgate at Target, provided it has fluoride and “tartar control” At first I thought tartar control was just another marketing ploy but it isn’t. For years when I would visit the dentist for a cleaning, the hygienist would scrape off a hard crust of plaque at the gumline (I floss, by the way). In fact, the way I knew it was time for a cleaning was in the buildup of this crust. Once I started using tartar control toothpaste the crust has never come back. As for using less of everything, in my… Read more »
8 years 4 months ago

Have you looked into tooth powder? My grandparents used to buy it in a tin. There’s probably a brand with fluoride in it out there somewhere.

8 years 4 months ago
Well, Beth, I would rather you have your teeth than not, so don’t beat yourself up about going back on the toothpaste wagon! I asked my dentist this past time about the toothpaste. And at first he said, you really don’t need any toothpaste, and I was like … so can I use non-flouridated toothpaste? And then he back-tracked ant told me to use the flouride toothpaste. So whatever, but I think you’re right. We’re prone to putting gobs and gobs of toothpaste on our brush and we really only need a wee bit. That’s my attitude to most things… Read more »
Susan B
8 years 4 months ago

Oh, those teeth issues. I use “advance fiber” type (i.e. plastic) plastic floss because it fits between my teeth when no other kind will. After years of scoffing at electric toothbrushes, I now use one on my dentist’s firm recommendation. I have yet to adequately address the toothpaste issue; when I was a really young kid we used “toothpowder” which had to be mixed into a paste in your hand and I never like that.

And I agree, it raises the same kind of balancing as sunscreen issues.

Lynne Marie
8 years 4 months ago
We once talked about sunscreen, and some choices just have to be made for health reasons. You aren’t going to do much good in the world if you are unable to get proper nutrition because you can’t chew. Just as I am not going to do much good if I fulfill my family’s “Everyone gets skin cancer” prophecy. Meh. I have excellent teeth (which is weird because everyone else in my family has constant problems). The baking-soda solution seems to work fine with me, and my dentist hasn’t made any complaints yet. Still, I tend to alternate with a health-food-store… Read more »
8 years 4 months ago

I always hated Tom’s, but got a sample of the SLS free, and just bought a tube of it, after squeezing every last bit out of the sample size. It’s good stuff. I’d recommend it for your next round.

Green Bean
8 years 4 months ago

Your teeth will probably thank you, Beth. I have to admit that toothpaste is one thing I’m not yet willing to give up. We went the no-flouride route with my now 5 1/2 year old and last year he had 8 cavities. After that, and much guilt, I decided we would all use store bought toothpaste, with flouride, and preserve our teeth if not the world.

Happy brushing. :)

Anarres Natural Health
8 years 4 months ago
Dear Beth, I adore your column, and I adore your spirit and frankness! I adore you even if you bought a plastic tube of toothpaste. You are SO right about the using too much thing. I often see my clients for refills WAYYYYY before I expect to and ask them what happened, and how much they’ve been using. Sometimes there was a spill, and sometimes family members have been also using the product, but half the time it’s that it’s hard to break the habit of using too much. Which brings mer to the abrasion question. You can use soda,… Read more »
8 years 4 months ago

I think it’s wonderful that you’ve persisted so long – and perhaps the time has come to start another Brita-style campaign … although I should think your heart sinks at the prospect. It may be that the world isn’t yet ready to go plastic-free, but on the day that it is, it’s going to be very pleased that people like Beth have led the way.

You’re a brave lady … thanks


Wild Orchids for Trotsky
8 years 4 months ago

PS. Good point about not using more than necessary, even if it does come in a nonplastic package.

Wild Orchids for Trotsky
8 years 4 months ago

Have you tried the Jason brand of toothpaste? As I remember it doesn’t have SLS and comes in a metal tube…since I am not living in the US right now I have lost track, but if memory serves me right it seemed like a good option when I was in CT. I can’t remember if it has baking soda. Cheers, Rachel

8 years 4 months ago

I dont think the world is gonna end just because Beth bought a tube toothpaste. QUit being so hard on yourself- the world just is not ready to go plastic free.
Yet. Someday.You need to keep your teeth- imagine the plastic waste from a bunch of efferdent packets!
SO the way I look at it, one tube of toothpaste is saving you many packets!

Fr. Peter Doodes
8 years 4 months ago
Hi Beth, At a recent visit to the dentist I asked him about different types of toothpaste. I had been looking at the various toothpaste packets and comparing ingredients (sad or what) and worked out that basically the main ‘active’ ingredients were the same in all. some had just a few miniscule minor ones, the rest (majority) of the ingredients being filler, colour, flavouring etc. I asked him what the differences were between them, was there any advantage, one to another, and if so what was it? I said that I could not see any and that the different ingredients… Read more »
Mr. W
8 years 4 months ago
From: American Chemical Society “African ‘chewing sticks’ work as well as toothbrushesChewing sticks — used for oral hygiene for thousands of years in the Middle East, Africa and Asia — clean teeth and prevent plaque as effectively as toothbrushes. Scientists have now isolated and identified the antimicrobial agents in these sticks that kill oral pathogens and help prevent diseases. The new research is reported in the March 3 Web edition of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry by researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and the University of Stellenbosch in Tygerberg, South Africa. The peer-reviewed journal… Read more »