The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish
April 26, 2010

Plastic-Free Dental Floss? Not Quite.

DenTek plastic floss pick

Cool photo, huh? It’s a plastic DenTek floss pick. I see them all over the streets around here. Our litter bugs have good oral hygiene. Anyway, this one did not come from the gutter.  It is MY plastic floss pick. The Teflon (boo hiss!) tape finally broke last week after many, many uses. No, I wouldn’t buy plastic floss picks myself, but in a moment of desperation, having forgotten my own dental floss, I begged one from a coworker. I’ve kept it in my desk drawer at work and cleaned and reused it over and over again.

I’m going to discuss green(er) flossing options.  But first, an update on my current efforts to de-plastify my oral hygiene. Sadly, it’s one area of my life in which there is still a lot of plastic, although significantly reduced. I’m not willing to compromise too much as far as my teeth and gums are concerned. Bacteria in the mouth have been linked to serious systemic illnesses. Plus, fillings and crowns and other dental work are not particularly eco-friendly, even if you do have the greenest dentist in town.

Here are the supplies I use:

Eco Friendly dental toothpaste, mouth rinse, dental floss, recycled toothbrush

Toothbrush

I use a Preserve toothbrush made from 100% recycled polypropylene plastic, the kind that yogurt cups (and Brita filters!) are made from. Preserve will take back the toothbrushes, as well as all other number 5 plastics, at the end of their lives and recycle them into new Preserve products. While I have a problem with community recycling programs that ship their waste off to China, I support companies that practice “Extended Producer Responsibility” and take back their own waste.  What’s more, Preserve does the recycling here in the U.S. rather than abroad.

Other Options:

Wooden toothbrushes with natural boar bristles. As you can see from the link, the toothbrush comes in a plastic case, so what’s the point?  And second, I personally don’t like the idea of killing a boar for a toothbrush. While some companies claim their bristles come from humanely raised boars, I am skeptical. (And no, I don’t eat meat anymore either. But that is a recent, personal development and not necessarily relevant to this blog.)

Plastic toothbrushes with replaceable heads. Fuchs Ekotec and Radius Source with recycled handles are examples. These options are certainly better than buying all new virgin plastic every 4-6 weeks.

Toothpaste

After trying unsuccessfully to use various baking soda concoctions, and finding that all of them were too harsh for my teeth and gums, I finally reverted back to toothpaste. I keep it as waste-free as possible by 1) Using a very tiny amount. (It’s not the toothpaste that’s so important as the motion of brushing and especially the flossing.) 2) Choosing Tom’s of Maine SLS-Free toothpaste because that company too has a take back program for its aluminum tubes. After removing the plastic cap and threads, you can send the tube to:

Tom’s of Maine
Consumer Dialogue Team
302 Lafayette Center
Kennebunk, ME 04043

A note on BPA: It’s true that the lining of a Tom’s of Maine aluminum tube, like all aluminum containers, may contain some BPA. However, it’s also true that many other plastics contain chemicals that can leach. What chemicals are in plastic toothpaste tubes? We don’t know, and manufacturers won’t tell us. So my choice is a recyclable metal tube with less plastic.

Mouth Rinse

My dentist recommends Dental Herb Company Tooth and Gum Tonic. It is very concentrated, so I use a tiny bit diluted with water. The rinse comes in a glass bottle. Unfortunately, as you can see, the cap is plastic, as is the label. I tried making my own mouth rinse early on, using various herbs and spices in vodka. Then I learned that alcohol is too harsh. The tonic I now use is alcohol-free. It’s basically herbs and essential oils in a base of water and vegetable glycerin.

Dental Floss

So, about those flossing options I mentioned above. I won’t be going out to buy a package of plastic picks with their toxic Teflon floss, even if they can be washed and reused over and over again. And I’m also not going to wash and reuse regular dental floss, as some uber-greenies have suggested. Any floss that’s tough enough to stand up to repeated uses is probably made of some scary material that I don’t want in my mouth anyway.

Eco-Dent dental floss in a cardboard boxEco-Dent:My choice, after weighing all the options, is Eco-Dent dental floss. It’s what I’ve been using for the past two years, and I really like it. Unlike any other brand of dental floss I have found, it comes in a recyclable cardboard container. That was the deciding factor for me. While there is a very thin plastic wrapper inside the box and two protective plastic stickers on the outside, the amount of plastic packaging is minimal compared to all other brands.

What’s more, the floss is waxed using 100% vegetable waxes rather than beeswax or petroleum-based wax. The Gentle floss contains enzymes that help break down food particles between the teeth. The Vegan floss does not, as those enzymes are grown on a dairy substrate. Either sounds great, right? Well…

The floss itself is made from Nylon. Plastic. But I’ve compared Eco-Dent to other brands of floss, and to me, it’s the best choice currently offered.

Radius: Radius natural dental floss is made from silk. If you’re vegan, forget it.  If you’re not (I’m not), you still have to consider the packaging. The outer cardboard box can fool you. Inside is a regular plastic dental floss container.

Tom’s of Maine: The floss is made from Nylon with a hard plastic container inside the cardboard box.

DenTek Natural Floss Picks: In addition to their plastic floss picks, DenTek has created an “eco” option: individual disposable floss picks made from compostable starch rather than petroleum-based plastic. According to the company, they will break down in 180 days at a commercial compost facility. And the FAQ on the web site includes a link to instructions for building your own compost bin if you don’t have a commercial facility nearby. It seems like a green idea. But when you dig into the reality of it, you find just more greenwashing.

  1. Most commercial facilities process their compost at a much faster rate than 180 days. At Jepson Prairie, the facility that handles San Francisco’s compost, the material is “cooked” for 60 days and then “cured” for 30 days. Would DenTek picks break down in that short of a time?
  2. The floss picks come in a big plastic bag, so there’s really no plastic savings there. The company advertises the bag as recyclable, but unless they are willing to take back that bag and recycle it themselves, it’s not likely to get recycled anywhere.
  3. The floss itself is Nylon, so where is the benefit over regular Nylon dental floss?
  4. The “natural” picks don’t work well. In short, according to reviews on Amazon.com and Drugstore.com, they suck. Users complain that the floss doesn’t slide well and breaks too easily. So the argument can’t even be made for washing and reusing them over and over again like I did with my toxic Teflon pick.
  5. Way more materials and energy go into producing floss picks with their plastic handles (regardless of what the handles are made from) than plain dental floss. Unless there is some reason why you can’t use regular dental floss and must use a pick, I’d recommend skipping these.

Bryton picksBryton Picks: Okay, this option just seems weird. I had to post the picture from the site because I couldn’t even figure out how to accurately describe these things. Bryton picks are not floss. Instead, they are made from flexible stainless steel strips that you slide up and down between each tooth. The handle is made from plastic. On the plus side, the device can be cleaned and reused for up to a month, probably longer. But I simply can’t imagine them actually working in the way that dental floss is supposed to work — below the gum line and around the teeth.

I’ll ask my dentist and get back to you.

Glide and other mainstream flosses: They’re made from Nylon or Teflon (worse), come in plastic containers, usually inside plastic blister packs, and are synthetically waxed. So why even consider them?

One Final Word

I’d love to hear your solutions for greener, less plastic dental hygiene. But I’m not willing to go to extremes to get the plastic out at the expense of my mouth.  Part of my goal with this blog/project is to find out just where my limits are — to learn what I am and am not willing to give up. The changes I make don’t have an expiration date. They have to be sustainable for a lifetime.

And one more word after that.

My dentist founded the Eco Dentistry Association, which supports dentists everywhere in finding greener ways to practice dentistry, from reducing unnecessary disposable plastic to finding less toxic treatments. Refer your dentist to the organization’s web site for more information.

90 comments
landrydenver
landrydenver

Wow, its interesting article. Your way of helping this environment is incredible, I am impressed with your work. Its nice to read about the plastic free floss, for dental checkups I always prefer 

http://www.drkezian.com/los-angeles-dentist.php because this dental office is affordable and best in its services.

Nan Sea Love
Nan Sea Love

As usually very good information i used to use A. Vogel Herbal Mouth Wash besides being in a glass container it was great mouthwash but the last time i check it is no longer available so will check out Dental Herb Company Tooth and Gum Tonic. i have used Eco-Dent floss for years and love it. But i had avoided bamboo toothbrushes because of the boar bristles. i am sure you are very busy but hope you will update this blog to promote the great work of Brush With Bamboo as other vegans might be more open if they saw an alternative without boar bristles (Even though i am a vegan i have no problem with using USED leather or local, humanely harvested honey but know a lot of vegans that are not so open.) i would like very much to share this blog but will wait and see if the update to add info on Brush with Bamboo is something you can do. Also thank you for the info about Tom’s of Maine i did not know about his take back program If i did not have very sensitive teeth would switch from Eco-dent tooth powder to his but i have to use Eco-dent as it really helps. My husband uses Tom's and i will be sure he knows about the take back program. Have you checked out this? http://tv.greenmedinfo.com/homemade-coconut-oil-based-toothpaste/#sthash.K2L78m8k.dpuf

Nan Sea Love
Nan Sea Love

As usually very good information i used to use A. Vogel Herbal Mouth Wash besides being in a glass container it was great mouthwash but the last time i check it is no longer available so will check out http://www.dentalherbcompany.com/. i have used Eco-Dent floss for years and love it. But i had avoided bamboo toothbrushes because of the boar bristles. i am sure you are very busy but hope you will update this blog to promote the great work of Brush With Bamboo as other vegans might be more open if they saw an alternative without boar bristles (i have no problem with using used leather or local, humanely harvested honey but know a lot of vegans that are not so open.) i would like very much to share this blog but will wait and see if the update to add info on Brush with Bamboo is something you can do. Also thank you for the info about Tom’s of Maine i did not know about his take back program If i did not have very sensitive teeth would switch from Eco-dent tooth powder to his but i have to use Eco-dent as it really helps. My husband uses Tom's and i will be sure he knows about the take back program. Have you checked out this? http://tv.greenmedinfo.com/homemade-coconut-oil-based-toothpaste/#sthash.K2L78m8k.dpuf

Lora
Lora

As far as mouthwash goes, I use coconut oil once a day, swishing for roughly 5 or 10 minutes and have noticed a definite improvement in my teeth since I started.  Coconut oil is known for having great antibacterial and antifungal properties. 

Livia
Livia

So, I"ve read that the fluoride and the glycerine in many toothpastes actually prevent a tooth from remineralizing;  and some who used nice, healthy oils in their homemade tooth cleaners found better tooth healing after leaving them out.  And easy does it on the baking soda, per some, as you don't need to scrape off any more enamel.  Google Dr. Judd or Dr. Phillips on "blotting technique" and "good teeth from birth to death."  Fascinating.  Saliva and a tiny touch of essential oil may be all that is needed on a daily basis, with weekly or monthly baking soda polishing.  

     davidrose
davidrose

Thanks for the post..It is really great. There are also non-toothpaste brushes called ionic brushes that use titanium dioxide to kill bacteria around it. Kind of amazing if they work like the tests show. anyone could tell me about dental digital sensor.

davidrose
davidrose

Thanks for the post..It is really great. There are also non-toothpaste brushes called ionic brushes that use

titanium dioxide to kill bacteria around it. Kind of amazing if they

work like the tests show. anyone could tell me about

BethTerry
BethTerry

@Daniela Hi.  Do you know what the actual floss is made of?  The page does not say if it is Nylon or cotton or some other material.

Kay
Kay

As for floss, possibly consider something like the sonicare airfloss? it's expensive and plastic, but you'd be able to use to for a long while

Daniela
Daniela

Hi there,  I am from Germany and have found a plastic free dental floss in an online shop that also ships internationally.  It is rather pricey in that particular shop but there are others that sell it cheaper, at least here in Europe. Maybe there are shops like in the US as well who carry that brand. It's called "Le Négri" dental floss. It is natural finish and comes in a metal tin.

I am not sure if I can post links here but if so this is what it looks like: http://www.manufactum.com/dental-floss-p1402108/

BethTerry
BethTerry

Hi Allison... sorry I forgot to check with my dentist.  But I'm guessing that different dentists might have different opinions.  Want to check with yours too and see what they say?

Allison
Allison

Please update on the Bryton Pick. I'm looking into getting them since my boyfriend uses those 'hard to reach angle' floss picks 10+ times a day. Please review them, or at least let us know if your dentist thinks they'll work like floss. Thanks!

Lynn
Lynn

Hello. I found this post while searching for some way to cut down on the huge amount of plastic floss casings I use that I seem to drown in sometimes. It's sad that there aren't that many options out there...barely anyone who doesn't use them. Thank you for making such a comprehensive post and helping out my search. 

BethTerry
BethTerry

Beeswax is not vegan, that's all.  I personally use beeswax, but other people do not.

Tara Marinara
Tara Marinara

Is there a problem with beeswax? I was planning on making some beeswax coated cotton sheets to use instead of plastic wrap this weekend

DJNN
DJNN

Instead of using the plastic throw away floss pics I find that using a re-usable floss holder is a great solution. Their are a few of them on the market, but I find the E-Z Floss brand to work well for me. It's small enough so easy to travel with but I can still get to the back of my teeth. It doesn't solve the "floss problem", but it can be used with any kind of floss. I have a friend who recommended this one who claims that he has been using it daily for more than 10 years. To me that seems to me to be an acceptable use of plastic.

DJNN
DJNN

Instead of using the plastic throw away floss pics I find that using a re-usable floss holder is a great solution. Their are a few of them on the market, but I find the E-Z Floss brand to work well for me. It's small enough so easy to travel with but I can still get to the back of my teeth. It doesn't solve the "floss problem", but it can be used with any kind of floss. I have a friend who recommended this one who claims that he has been using it daily for more than 10 years. To me that seems to me to be an acceptable use of plastic.

jentashi
jentashi

I am also considering green dental floss, and am going to experiment with sinew/cured animal tendons.

Katya
Katya

I was trying the baking soda toothpaste recipes and they didnt work for me as well - too hard on my teeth and taste is bad. I ended up making the toothpaste out of white clay powder - it is much softer and healthier basis. I just add tea tree and mint essensial oils for desinfection and smell/taste. Thanks for the floss review!

lindsayseligman
lindsayseligman

Hi, I have been searching forever for reusable or natural alternatives to floss and dental hygene. I love the idea of using the strings from Agave leaves to  floss plus they are stronger! If someone could market this idea it would be amazing. Here is a video of a man using the Agave string to floss. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kmT3LTQ6Q88

 

There are also non-toothpaste brushes called ionic brushes that use titanium dioxide to kill bacteria around it. Kind of amazing if they work like the tests show.

http://www.soladey.com/about/how-it-works

 

Then of course as you know Miswak from Peelu or Neem tree are time tested ways of brushing. If anyone has found a source of these that are not individually wrapped in plastic, please let me know!

lindsayseligman
lindsayseligman

Hi, I have been searching forever for reusable or natural alternatives to floss and dental hygene. I love the idea of using the strings from Agave leaves to  floss plus they are stronger! If someone could market this idea it would be amazing. Here is a video of a man using the Agave string to floss. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kmT3LTQ6Q88

 

There are also non-toothpaste brushes called ionic brushes that use titanium dioxide to kill bacteria around it. Kind of amazing if they work like the tests show.

http://www.soladey.com/about/how-it-works

 

Then of course as you know Miswak from Peelu or Neem tree are time tested ways of brushing. If anyone has found a source of these that are not individually wrapped in plastic, please let me know!

lindsayseligman
lindsayseligman

Hi, I have been searching forever to find a good natural or reusable floss.  I love the idea of harvesting floss from Agave plant. The leaves can be stripped to make strings that are stringer than dental floss and totally natural, if someone marketed this it would be amazing, I would  buy a pack every month.

Video of someone flossing with Agave strings  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kmT3LTQ6Q88

Also Miswak sticks from the neem or peelu tree are a time tested natural way to clean your teeth, I wish i could find some that are not individually wrapped  in plastic.

Also check out these brushes..they use a titanium dioxide rod to kill bacterial around it..really amazing if it works.

lindsayseligman
lindsayseligman

Hi, I have been searching forever to find a good natural or reusable floss.  I love the idea of harvesting floss from Agave plant. The leaves can be stripped to make strings that are stringer than dental floss and totally natural, if someone marketed this it would be amazing, I would  buy a pack every month.

Video of someone flossing with Agave strings  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kmT3LTQ6Q88

Also Miswak sticks from the neem or peelu tree are a time tested natural way to clean your teeth, I wishIi could find some that are not individually wrapped  in plastic.

Also check out these brushes..they use a titanium dioxide rod to kill bacterial around it..really amazing if it works.

LaurasLastDitch
LaurasLastDitch

My solution to the the dental floss problem is to reuse. But, my husband refuses to do so. We find dental floss at church rummage sales at the end, when it's fill a sack for $1. By that point, if the floss hasn't been purchased by someone else, it would likely be pitched anyway. When the floss is finished, we pull off the metal cutter and recycle it, and recycle the plastic case. We haven't had to buy floss from the store or take samples from the dentist in many years.

Jay
Jay

I have a nail brush with bristles apparently made from cactus thorns. The bristles are surprisingly soft, and really gentle on my sensitive skin.

If they can use them for nail brushes, surely they would work for toothbrushes too...

 

Anyway, you should consider making your own toothpaste. There are recipes online! 

Monika
Monika

I use the "Environmental Toothbrush" ....made from bamboo and polymer, which they claim is totally biodegradable. They come wrapped in paper in cardboard boxes. I stopped using any toothpaste and haven't noticed a difference in whiteness. For a mouthwash, tea made from fresh thyme leaves is ok (and not as awful tasting as I thought it might be).

Annie
Annie

My dentist here in France laughed at me when I mentioned using floss everyday, saying that that is so American. Flossing is not common in France! My dentist doesn't use floss himself. There are just some practices that we, Americans, have gotten so used to, we don't even question them anymore. Same goes for mouth wash; if you want to use one, make your own with some water and a few drops of tea tree essential oil (or another antiseptic essential oil like lavender).

Dora
Dora

How do you buy the dental herb tonic? is it possible to do so without a dentist? it's just mouthwash, right?

Sandra
Sandra

I was also skeptical about using the Butler gum stimulator in place of dental floss, as recommended by the Zero Waste Home. In the hopes of reducing waste, though, I decided to give it a try. After six months, and a follow-up visit to the dentist's office, I have to say that it really does work. My dentist even marveled that my gums were healthier this time around. There's a trick to using the stimulator tool correctly as a floss substitute: you have to remember to guide the rubber tip around the entire gumline (front and back of each tooth), not just in between teeth. It sounds harder to do than it is, and once you get the hang of it, cleaning teeth this way will take the same amount of time as flossing.

mairsydoats
mairsydoats

I don't think the rubber doodad mounted on a holder is for flossing - I think it's for stimulating the gums. I love that thing with a passion, but still need to floss. Damn those bad tooth genes!!

emma
emma

Check out the zero waste home bathroom. She had plastic free alternatives. Also read the comments someone talks about a compostable toothbrush.

Bert
Bert

Why not just use a heavier thread for dental floss. You can buy it at a sewing store on a wooden bolt.

BethTerry
BethTerry

davidrose Here's a study comparing sonic toothbrushes and ionic toothbrushes.  These researches found the differences to be insignificant.

BethTerry
BethTerry moderator

@Daniela Hi.  Do you know what the actual floss is made of?  The page does not say if it is Nylon or cotton or some other material.  

BethTerry
BethTerry moderator

Hi Allison... sorry I forgot to check with my dentist.  But I'm guessing that different dentists might have different opinions.  Want to check with yours too and see what they say?

BethTerry
BethTerry moderator

Beeswax is not vegan, that's all.  I personally use beeswax, but other people do not.

Beth Terry
Beth Terry

Hi Dora. This particular mouthwash is only sold through dentists, unfortunately, so you would have to have your dentist order it for you. I actually haven't been using it lately because I want to avoid the plastic cap and the plastic label.

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