Toothpaste comes in all sorts of flavours, colours and sizes at the supermarket, but one thing they all have in common is that you can’t put the disposable tube in your kerbside recycling bin.
So if you are cutting back on plastics this July, you could try and make your own toothpaste at home.
Dr Marilyn Owen, a paediatric dentist in Hobart, said commercial toothpastes did two key things: removed plaque and protected teeth from decay.
“A lot more plaque is effectively cleaned off … when using a commercial toothpaste,” Dr Owen said.
“For the paste to be effective it does need to contain fluoride.”
Fluoride is recommended by dentists as the best protective agent against decay. (612 ABC Brisbane: Jessica Hinchliffe)
But before toothpaste was sold commercially, many people made their own and there are thousands of recipes to be found online.
Some of the most common ingredients include bicarb and coconut oil.
And while food ingredients such as coconut oil, ground cloves and cinnamon are not likely to cause anyone harm, Dr Owen said there was no proof they did your teeth any good either.
“Although they are safe, there’s no evidence that they actually do have a beneficial effect on the mouth,” she said.
Charcoal not a proven whitener
Charcoal, or activated charcoal, is often recommended for do-it-yourself whitening power, but Dr Owen warned this ingredient could be dangerous in large amounts.
“There’s no evidence that charcoal actually improves the whitening effect of toothpaste,” she said.
Dr Owen says charcoal has no special whitening powers and could be toxic in large amounts. (Flickr: magnold)
“Although it shouldn’t be toxic in small amounts, we just don’t know and it could be problematic if used excessively.
“It probably should be best avoided.
“Consult your dental professional if you are interested in having professional whitening and have it done safely.”
Fluoride the ‘greatest asset’ against tooth decay
Fluoride is recommended by dentists as the best protective agent against tooth decay.
Tasmania was one of the first states to add fluoride to the water supply in 1953, but Dr Owen said fluoride in drinking water was not enough.
“Drinking water throughout the day keeps your hydration levels up [and] good saliva flow helps protect the mouth,” she said.
“However the fluoride levels in toothpaste are higher … and really we do need those levels twice a day to be applied to the teeth to help protect against dental decay.
“Fluoride is our greatest asset when it comes to protection from tooth decay.”
Dr Owen said as well as brushing with fluoridated toothpaste, it was best to not rinse your mouth straight after brushing.
“We do recommend now that after you’ve stopped brushing, you spit out the excess but don’t have the mouth rinsed at all.”
She recommended buying larger tubes of toothpaste to reduce waste.
And while dental care products cannot be recycled in your usual council recycling programs, a company called TerraCycle does run recycling programs for private homes and primary schools.
Households and schools that join the program receive boxes to collect used and cleaned dental product packaging which is then posted back to TerraCycle for recycling.