I realise this might be a bit of a strange post. Who on earth cares about someone’s dental care routine?
But I’d actually like to show how this seemingly insignificant part of our self-care can actually be used to supercharge our health. Not to mention help the planet at the same time.
Natural, Eco-Friendly Tooth-Care
When it comes to being vegan and finding products that are cruelty-free, one of the most difficult areas to tackle is teeth cleaning. Many of our typical, off-the-shelf toothpastes, mouthwashes and dental flosses are made by huge corporations that are notorious for animal testing (Unilever, P&G and Arm & Hammer, to name a few).
It’s the same with the zero-waste movement. I once read that the hardest room of the house to make more sustainable is the kitchen, and I agree. Yet I’m willing to bet the bathroom is up there too, with so much waste being created by unnecessary packaging and single-use plastic.
So I’m here to show you a few items I use in my dental care routine that are a little kinder to animals, and a little easier on our planet.
My Dental Care Routine
Looking after our mouths as we get older is increasingly important. That includes not just your teeth, but your gums and tongue, too. You might have once got away with giving your teeth a quick tickle with the toothbrush when you were a kid…but in your 20s and beyond, that just won’t cut it.
Adult teeth are more precious in that we don’t get another set afterward. So it’s all the more important we take the time to treat them with care.
Here are some items/rituals I use in my daily dental routine, to hopefully reduce my chances of fillings and cavities down the line.
Ayurvedic tongue scraper
The very first thing I do in the morning is go to the bathroom and scrape my tongue with an Ayurvedic tongue scraper. Not only is this great for ensuring a healthy tongue, it’s also an efficient bad breath cure (or indeed, prevention).
The best tongue scraper is an Ayurvedic copper tongue scraper, like this one I bought from Amazon. Though you can also buy tongue scrapers made from silver or stainless steel, copper is said to have strong bacteria-resistant properties, meaning it is not only a potent combative against bad bacteria, but will also stay clean between uses.
Tongue scraping may sound like a really weird concept, but it’s an ancient Ayurvedic practice that actually makes a lot of sense. By gently removing stagnant, undesirable bacteria from the tongue after sleep, not only do you improve your mouth health, but it can also reduce bad breath, increase taste sensation, remove the coating from the tongue and help to kickstart the digestive system.
Though it may be tempting to pick up a plastic tongue scraper from Boots (I did at first!) I would strongly recommend an Ayurvedic one because they are specially designed to cover the whole width of the tongue with each sweep.
How to clean your tongue with a tongue scraper
- In the morning, before eating, drinking or brushing your teeth, take hold of your tongue scraper by the two long ends.
- Keeping your tongue relaxed (hard I know!) open your mouth and push it out and down as far as you can.
- Starting from as far back as is comfortable, gently drag the U-shaped part of the scraper towards the front of your tongue.
- Rinse the scraper after each pass. Repeat as many times as you feel you need – usually about 5-10 times.
- You might feel a bit of a gag reflex as you do this, and that’s totally normal. Try to keep you jaw and tongue relaxed throughout. Gagging usually helps to bring up any excess mucus from the back of the throat.
After you’re done, move onto brushing your teeth as normal (or, pull oil – see below).
2. Oil Pulling
Oil pulling is another Ayurvedic practice that I heard about some years ago, but never actually implemented it until a year or so ago.
Though it might also sound like a strange concept, it’s actually a powerful natural teeth whitening method that brings so many benefits, both inside and out.
Oil pulling works by swishing oil around in the mouth for a few minutes and allowing the oil to ‘pull’ or ‘draw out’ any toxins within the mouth. You then spit out the oil and with it, the nasty toxins and bacteria.
Oil pulling benefits include whiter teeth, fresher breath, a reduction in plaque and tartar and therefore a lower chance of cavities and gum diseases. Some people have also claimed it helps prevent colds and illnesses, and even improve acne and skin texture.
Around two years ago I found that I have slightly exposed roots on four of my molar teeth (caused my over-brushing, my dentist said). This means it can be incredibly painful to eat things high in sugar (including *sob* dates) or anything very cold. Whenever I oil pull regularly, however, this tooth sensitivity massively reduces.
Oil pulling with coconut oil is usually the most common way, as coconut oil is a great neutral oil with antimicrobial properties. Coconut oil is a fantastic staple to have in your kitchen and bathroom, too, as it has so many uses.
I have always used coconut oil to oil pull, but recently I thought I’d try one of the oil pulling mouthwash blends from Georganics. This one is English Peppermint flavour (pretty standard) and has a blend of essential peppermint oils with coconut oil. However, they also do other flavours too like Spearmint, Ginger, Tea Tree and Red Mandarin, if you fancy a change. I also love that they come in glass bottles too, making them easier to reuse or recycle.
I will quickly say here too that I don’t oil pull every day, as doing all of these steps could be a bit time consuming for some people. I always aim to do it at least on the weekends, if not more often. I believe you’d only need to oil pull three times a week to see a difference, though of course you can maximise these benefits the more you do it.
How to oil pull
- Before brushing your teeth, or eating or drinking, pour out a tablespoon of neutral oil and hold it in your mouth. (If you use a tongue scraper, do that first.)
- Swish the oil around your mouth for anywhere from five to 15 minutes. The longer you hold it the more toxins it will draw out, but I find that starting off with five or 10 minutes is fine for beginners. And it can sometimes be all people have time for.
- Spit out the oil into the bin (NOT the sink as it can block your drains!). I usually find an old bit of packaging or container or something I can deposit it into.
- Follow with brushing your teeth.
Though the recommended amount is a tablespoon, I find that a teaspoonful is more than enough for people starting out. Of course everyone’s mouths are different sizes. I find that about half a tablespoon works for me.
3. Bamboo toothbrush
Remember that old Disney toothbrush you had when you were 9? Well, guess what?
It’s probably still out there.
Toothbrushes are just one of the daily items made, used and thrown away every day. And because they are made from plastic, they unsurprisingly don’t break down very easily. It’s actually estimated that 350 million toothbrushes end up in landfill every year – and that’s just in the US alone. Worse, some of them even end up in rivers or the ocean, where they threaten wildlife and ecosystems.
Plastic toothbrushes can take over 400 years to degrade! Which basically means that every toothbrush you’ve ever used is still sitting out there somewhere. Crazy, right?!
That’s why I switched to using a bamboo toothbrush earlier this year. Not only is bamboo one of the most sustainable materials on earth, these eco toothbrushes are also biodegradable, meaning much less waste is left over. (Many of them arrive in fully compostable packaging, too.)
As those of you who read my last newsletter may know, I get my bamboo toothbrushes from a cute little company called Bam & Boo, and I love them!! Not only are their eco-friendly toothbrushes really reasonably priced, they also offer a free recurring delivery that helps you regularly replace your toothbrush as often as you want, and they ship everywhere worldwide.
For example, I pay €4.99 (£4.45) per toothbrush, and I set a recurring delivery of every four months. (The recommended time for replacing your toothbrush is every three months, but I thought I’d stretch it.) This basically works out as £1 a month, and I don’t need to worry about remembering to replace my brush. It really is quite a nice feeling!
If you’re worried about whether a non-plastic toothbrush will clean your teeth as well as the big brands, I’m here to tell you it will. In fact, it may even clean them better, due to the soft bristles they usually have. Often, I’d find brushing my teeth to be painful (those exposed roots I mentioned) so I had to go careful. However, this pain was reduced when I switched to a soft toothbrush like the one from Bam & Boo.
Unfortunately the bristles on Bam & Boo toothbrushes are made from nylon so aren’t compostable like the bamboo handle, but they can be removed and recycled with the rest of your plastic. I usually keep my old toothbrushes to use as cleaning brushes.
4. Natural, vegan toothpaste
It wasn’t until about a year ago that I realised that yes, quite a few vegan toothpastes exist, and I didn’t have to keep buying from the main brands that continue to test on animals.
Natural toothpaste also leaves out many of the unnecessary chemicals you’ll find in your usual tube of Aquafresh. Yes, there needs to be some chemicals in there in order to clean your teeth, but these will often be from more sustainable and even sometimes organic sources.
Of course, vegan and natural aren’t always one and the same. You can usually find a pretty decent cruelty-free toothpaste pretty easily on the high street, if you know where to look (Superdrug’s own-brand toothpaste is vegan). If you’re set on it being natural then you might have to look a little harder, although I’m now familiar with a few brands that supply this (see my list below).
Of course it’s not essential to always get everything perfect, and there may be times when it’s just not possible. So it’s better to just go with what’s most important to you – whether that’s a cruelty-free toothpaste or one that’s more sustainable. For me, I always put vegan at the top of my list. But the good news is that a sustainable, natural toothpaste will often, by nature, be vegan as well.
I’m currently using Dr Organic’s charcoal toothpaste (pictured), which I found in Holland & Barrett. Charcoal toothpastes are a great way to naturally whiten teeth and remove plaque build-up, without any harsh chemicals. This one is also organic and fluoride-free.
I’ll do a more in-depth post on my favourite vegan and natural toothpastes soon. However, here’s a brief list of others I like:
- Superdrug’s own
- Green people
As far as I’m aware, empty toothpaste tubes can usually be recycled – though it is difficult to do so. Georganics actually make their toothpastes in glass jars, which is a great lower waste option.
5. Sustainable dental floss
And finally, the last step to my dental routine – flossing!
Admittedly I don’t floss twice a day (like you’re meant to), but instead floss at night, as I can take my time with it more and make sure I’m doing it properly. It’s really important for your teeth and overall oral hygiene, as it removes the bits of bacteria between your teeth that your toothbrush can’t get to.
It can be hard to get into the regular routine of flossing daily. I used to think it was an extra unnecessary step. But trust me, just do it once! You’ll be so amazed (and probably grossed out) at what you may unearth, you’ll feel compelled to do it again just to stop that stuff from building up.
Whenever I skip a day of flossing, I just think back to what I know is there. I rarely miss it again the next day, haha.
Finding vegan, eco-friendly floss
Now, here’s the thing about finding both vegan and plastic-free dental floss. It’s hard. Like, really hard. In fact, after all my researching, I don’t actually think it exists yet. (Of course, if I’m wrong, please let me know!)
The floss I’m choosing to show you here is sustainable, eco-friendly and low waste. However, I need to come clean about one thing…
It’s not technically vegan.
Allow me to explain.
For ages, I was hunting for a vegan floss. And annoyingly, I couldn’t find one. But I didn’t want to keep buying my usual Oral B floss, descended from its non-vegan parent company and dressed in its unnecessary plastic packaging.
So I bought what I thought was the next best thing – this sustainable silk dental floss by Georganics.
All of Georganics’ dental flosses are made from natural ingredients, are biodegradable, and even come packaged in cute little glass holders, making them entirely plastic-free. I feel that this is terrific. It’s lovely to see at least one company making the efforts to invent less wasteful packaging, and encouraging people to reuse instead of throw away (Georganics sells floss refills that you simply insert into the holder when its empty).
From a functional point of view, Georganics’ natural floss works really, really well. Possibly the best floss I’ve ever used, actually. It lasts ages, gets between my teeth easily and does not fray.
Once my refills have been used up, I’m definitely going to give one of these vegan flosses a try. It will be a shame moving away from the reusable floss holder as I do love that it produces less waste…but it’s a world without the use of animals that I’m most interested in.
So, you might wonder, why am I still choosing to show Georganics floss to you?
Well, read on.
Vegan vs. sustainable
It’s a sad fact, but sometimes the pursuit for veganism and sustainability conflicts, and you need to make a choice about what is most important to you.
It’s true that something that is vegan may be made of synthetic materials…which may be less sustainable than a natural, non-vegan product like, for example, beeswax.
Though my personal view is to always choose the vegan option…with floss this isn’t always so easy. Both vegan and non-vegan flosses are often made from nylon, which is a type of plastic derived from crude oil. Though it does degrade eventually, this process can take between 50 and 80 years…not so great. Choosing a natural floss, like silk or bamboo, is usually a better choice where the environment is concerned.
Nylon floss, although innocent looking, is also tear-proof, meaning it could potentially become wrapped around animals’ necks in the future causing unnecessary pain and suffering (check out this photo of a seal). So, not great for the animals either.
So it really is a tough choice. I personally will be going with the vegan floss next time…but it’s useful to know that sometimes there’s more to the story than we first think. If you’re interested in becoming more sustainable in your bathroom and cutting down on waste, then Georganics floss will be perfect for you. At least, it sure will beat your typical floss, packaged in plastic, made from crude oil and probably containing non-vegan ingredients anyway.
Why Georganics floss isn’t vegan
You may be sitting there wondering what it is that makes Georganics eco-friendly floss not vegan.
Well, it’s made from silk, which comes from silkworms. In the general silk industry, silkworms are routinely boiled or gassed alive while still in their cocoons, so that the farmers can extract the silk. This is obviously cruel for many reasons, which is why vegans don’t buy silk.
However, there is such a thing as peace silk (also known as ahimsa silk), which is produced slightly differently. With peace silk, the silkworms are left to emerge naturally from their cocoons as moths, before the cocoon is harvested. This is obviously a much kinder option than being boiled alive, which no living being should have to go through.
However, even peace silk isn’t totally 100% cruelty-free. While most of the silkworms will be allowed to emerge naturally, they will then go and mate, producing hundreds of eggs which later hatch. Unfortunately, silk farms only have finite resources and need to control the population, so the majority of the offspring will be left to die of starvation or dehydration. That means for every silkworm that has a natural life, there will be hundreds of others that die prematurely.
I know, it sucks.
There is such a thing as wild peace silk, where silkworms and moths live in a completely natural environment, as they would in the wild. They’re left to eat as they would in the wild and behave as they would in the wild. They spin their protective cocoons in the trees and live on their own schedule, away from the controlled environment and artificial lights of cultivated silk farms. Whilst this is of course a much better life for the silkworms, it is still nevertheless a farm, and that farm cannot support hundreds of silkworm offspring.
(More info: Greenopedia.com.)
Georganics claim to use only wild peace silk to create their dental floss, which is pretty much the best of a less-than-great situation. However, as you know, it’s not 100% cruelty-free and there are no official accreditations with which to verify this. You can only take the company’s word for it.
Georganics do make a bamboo dental floss – for those of you who want to avoid the whole silk thing.
However, it’s coated with beeswax, so still not suitable for vegans.
EDIT 14/09/18: Upon recent review, Georganics have now switched out the beeswax in their charcoal bamboo floss, making it 100% vegan! So now we actually do have a vegan, sustainable dental floss on the market, which I am super stoked about. I hope you guys will try it!
EDIT: 22/02/19: Georganics have recently announced that their bamboo charcoal floss also contains 20% polyester. So while it is vegan, it is not entirely plastic-free. I find this so frustrating, as until this point, I thought I’d finally found a zero-waste, vegan option when it came to flossing.
Now, the only brand I can truly recommend is Tevra – a brand of natural floss made from corn which also uses the refillable glass holder design. I hope you guys will check it out and I also hope in the meantime, Georganics will work to rid their bamboo floss of plastic.
What do you guys think? Are there any rituals or products you’ll consider trying? What are your top tips for keeping your mouth healthy? Leave me a comment below!