I almost bought $100 Japanese toothbrushes last week, because they cause some kind of ionic reaction in your mouth, they're solar powered, and you don't need toothpaste. I thought this would all be very cool. Eug said "Sure", as is Eug's way. I decided to wait a week in case they were an impulse buy. Indeed, they would have been an impulse buy. For all their awesomeness, they're very expensive and they're plastic-- the heads need to be replaced often, as with regular toothbrushes. So I've been considering better, more no-waste options might be out there.
This has gotten me thinking about toothpaste: the tubes (and the toothbrushes themselves) are a bit annoying if we're trying not to have trash. A fairly minor source of trash given all the food packaging trash we still generate, but annoying nonetheless. Baking soda is a good alternative, but it's also pretty abrasive and can remove your enamel over time, apparently.
A colleague of mine was recommended not to use toothpaste by her dentist, since it's also abrasive. Much more important was the brushing action; that, and flossing every day.
So I've been trying out using less or no toothpaste. I use baking soda a couple of times a week, and at least once a day I use nothing. Learning from my Somali colleagues, who clean their mouths before prayer, I now wash my mouth out and brush at work. I'm still using toothpaste (right now, Tom's of Maine) about five times a week, and flossing fairly religiously. Floss involves regular waste, also, but it doesn't involve putting too many chemicals into your mouth. Flossing, says my health educator, is even more important than brushing. I'm just beginning to find low-waste floss options.
Of course, one big question here is around fluoride. In Boston, our tap water (which I use for drinking) is fluoridated so toothpaste does not need to supply fluoride. That said, the jury seems to be out on fluoride, at least a little bit, so I'd love to hear from parents especially. Cape Town water is NOT fluoridated, so we'll have to decide whether or not to give Noah fluoride tablets or use toothpaste.
Here are a couple of good links to choices around sustainability and toothbrushes, Toothpaste, and general oral hygiene.
I'm in no position to recommend anything to anyone. But if anyone out there wants to weigh-in on their natural, or not-so-natural tooth care habits, I'd love to hear. Like stopping facewash, this is a small shift that may or may not stick- it's more a fun and liberating experiment than an earth-shatteringly impactful one.