Have you ever wondered what effect toothpaste has on the environment? There is a reason why the instructions on the tube tell you not to swallow while brushing your teeth: toothpaste contains chemicals that are toxic to the human body. But as we spit thousands of tonnes of toothpaste into the sink every year, how many of us stop to consider where those chemicals go and what they are doing to the planet?
Let’s take a closer look at the ingredients of toothpaste and see whether there are more eco-friendly alternatives available.
Toothpaste Toxin 1: Fluoride
Toothpaste tubes advise users not to swallow toothpaste because fluoride, which is added to most brands of toothpaste, does some very nasty things to the body. Children who accidently eat or swallow large amounts of fluoridated toothpaste usually get stomach aches as a result. Perhaps more worryingly, repeatedly taking in small doses of fluoride can weaken bones, damage the kidneys and liver, and even interfere with the body’s natural DNA repair process.
Fluoride is not only added to toothpaste: it is also added to the water supply in many countries, including Australia, where at least 70% of the population is supplied with fluoridated water. Fluoride ions in the water supply end up in the soil, where they retard the growth of plants. Food crops take up the fluoride ions via their roots; when we eat the crops, the fluoride accumulates in our bodies, potentially exposing us to all its harmful effects.
Toothpaste Toxin 2: Triclosan
Many toothpastes marketing themselves as ‘anti-bacterial’ contain triclosan. Triclosan kills bacteria in the mouth, but there is concern that it could also be killing the planet. Washing triclosan down the drain sends it out into the natural environment, where it could be helping to evolve new strains of bacteria that are resistant to the antibiotics we use to treat common illnesses. Commonly known as superbugs, antibiotic-resistant bacteria already cause an estimated 25,000 deaths every year in the European Union, and scientists and doctors are concerned that the problem could get much worse over the next few decades.
Triclosan also plays havoc with the hormones of fish and other marine animals, stopping these animals from being able to reproduce properly. If we don’t stop effectively sterilizing wildlife through our careless use of chemicals, we could soon have an environmental disaster on our hands as population numbers begin plummeting.
As consumers become more aware of the need to protect the planet’s fragile ecosystems, demand for eco-friendly toothpaste is rising. You can buy eco-friendly toothpaste from health stores or online; these all-natural products are usually based on baking soda, which neutralizes acid in the mouth. Some also contain tea tree oil, a natural anti-bacterial agent. Various other natural ingredients are added to enhance the flavour of the toothpaste – why not try out some of the wonderfully fresh flavours that are on offer?
A cheaper way to protect yourself and the planet is to make your own eco-friendly toothpaste. Mix two tablespoons of baking soda with half a cup of coconut oil to bind the powder together, then add a few drops of peppermint oil as a flavour enhancer. As well as acting as a binder, coconut oil also naturally suppresses the growth of bacteria.
Using eco-friendly toothpaste will ensure that your mouth stays clean and healthy – without damaging the planet.
Guest post contributed by Laura Hobbs, on behalf of Glebe Dental Group.