Q: What's the greenest way to keep my teeth clean?
A: Brush, rinse, spit. And maybe floss. It's one of those rituals we do in a haze and don't think too much about (except you nutbars brushing to egg timers). But what exactly are we spitting into our water system every morning?
For one, we're adding fluoride to an already fluoridated system. And if you don't care about what it's doing to your body (increasing bone cancer rates and hip fractures), you might care about all the fluoride that's building up in wildlife, leading to fractures, lameness and poor reproduction. At least the stuff in your toothpaste isn't industrial-grade fluoride, the phosphate fertilizer by-product found in smokestack scrubbers and sold to drinking water fluoridators. Eww.
You're also spitting out plenty of eco-persistent triclosan every time you brush with toothpastes like Colgate 12 Hour or other antibacterial brands. Plus toothpaste has potentially carcinogenic saccharin, synthetic dyes and preservatives.
Just like deodorants, a lot of the natural toothpastes out there still contain some of the same scorned ingredients as drugstore brands, like propylene glycol (extremely toxic to fish in high concentrations), fluoride and the sudsing irritant sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS). Read your label carefully.
Tom's of Maine, Nature's Gate and Auromere all argue that SLS isn't a big concern. But lots are SLS-free, including Nature's Bliss and Green Beaver, which are two of the only Canadian brands . Green Beaver is also one of the cheapest SLS-free pastes (from $4.99 at Essence of Life on Kensington, Noah's on Bloor, Bathurst and Yonge and Big Carrot on Danforth). Riddells Creek is the most organic but it's pricey (from $10.19 at Big Carrot and Noah's). It, along with NewCo (from $6.99 at Essence of Life and Big Carrot) are the only brands that don't come in a totally unnecessary box.
Sorry to disappoint you, but even if your toothpaste tube says it's recyclable, it's not in Toronto. Yes, even the aluminum kind is lined with a plastic that makes it destined for landfill. Tom's of Maine says you can mail it back to them for recycling. Radius, a natural floss and toothbrush maker, on the other hand, stopped taking toothbrushes back because they said it wasted more energy to ship and recycle them than to make new ones. But is it really better to continually create new waste?
Skip packaging woes altogether by making your own bulk toothpaste from scratch (recipes at www.pioneerthinking.com/teeth1.html).
If you can find neem or peelu tree chewing sticks , you can also "brush" with these. You can also buy Peelu spearmint powder, called dental fibres, in a tin at Big Carrot for $12.99.
Want to have Wonder Woman white teeth without putting poison on your pearls? Most whitening toothpastes contain sodium or potassium hydroxides, aka lye (considered a poison by the FDA), as well as dozens of other chems. Tom's makes a whitening paste that uses natural silica, but it has SLS. Jason's Powersmile uses silica and renewable bamboo powder and doesn't contain SLS (both from $4.99 at Big Carrot, Tutti Frutti and Noah's).
Gargle much? Skip the fake dyes and artificial ingredients. A lot of drugstore mouthwashes contain anti-parasitic thymol, which used to come from thyme (Big Pharma now uses a synthetic version), so you'd assume it's safe. It's actually toxic to aquatic organisms when it ends up in rivers and lakes. Jason's Healthy Mouth mouthwash has organic tea tree oil and aloe vera instead (from $6.99 at Big Carrot, Essence of Life, Noah's and Tutti Frutti). Tom's makes a natural peppermint baking soda mouthwash (from $7.99 at Noah's, Essence of Life on Kensington and Tutti Frutti).
Nutribiotic makes a grapefruit seed extract mouthwash, but it adds a couple of synthetic ingredients. Better to just buy the extract in concentrated form and put a few drops in water.
You should be flossing every day, but more and more brands like Crest Glide, Colgate Easy Glide, Butler GUM Eez-Thru and CareDent coat their plastic with the eco-contaminant Teflon. Nasty! The rest are covered with a petroleum wax. Radius Silk floss uses biodegradable and sustainable silk threads and beeswax ($5.29 at Big Carrot). Ecodent Gentle Floss is vegan and uses veggie waxes and nylon, which is synthetic but fairly benign and the basis of most floss ($8.89 at Noah's). Nylon, by the way, takes about half a century to break down. (Please throw floss in the trash, not in the toilet. It can clog sewers and wash up in lakes!)
Nature's Gate has jumped on the breath strips bandwagon, but just because the ingredients are natural doesn't mean the plastic packaging is any less wasteful.
The only eco toothpicks we could find are Thursday Plantation Tea Tree Chewing Sticks made of fast-growing birch (from $3.99/100 at Essence of Life and Big Carrot). But they have to be shipped all the way from Australia. Swiss Army knives often have resuable plastic toothpicks. Or just use your damn fingers - they require very little fuel to reach your mouth.
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