Before we tackle toothpaste and the environment, how about a fascinating and brief history of this essential item:
Seems that about 5000 years ago, the Egyptians came up with the predecessor of toothpastes, a form of tooth powder which consisted of a mixture of, to us modern readers, odd items. In fact, the world’s oldest tooth powder recipe was found in a collection of papyrus documents from the 4th century AD at the National Library in Vienna, Austria. An ancient Egyptian scribe had carefully written down a recipe for “white and perfect teeth” – one drachma (a measure equal to one hundredth of an ounce) of rock salt , two drachmas of mint, one drachma of dried iris flower and 20 grains of pepper, all of them crushed and mixed together. Sounds fresh though abrasive!
The Romans and Chinese fiddled about with the recipe.
In the 9th century, the polymath Iraqi singer, oud player, composer, poet, and teacher, Ziryab, added a pleasant taste to the functionality of the product. And now let’s rush through the ages to 1881, when Doctor Washington Sheffield of New London, CT manufactured toothpaste into a collapsible tube. Tooth pastes as we know them, were introduced in around the 1900s.
..And on to the toothpaste of the 21st century which comes in all sorts of tastes and shades, always in plastic tubes and with an ingredient list that could well be written in Aramaic for all that we understand it.
Shall we decode some of it? Here are some of the chemicals in your toothpaste:
- Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) is added to cause foaming (which is a cosmetic effect and does not clean at all) and can lead to canker sores. SLS can interfere with your taste buds by breaking up the phospholipids on your tongue. This is why after brushing, you can’t taste certain things.
- Propylene Glycol: An active component in antifreeze, propylene glycol acts as a wetting agent and surfactant in toothpaste. The Material Safety Data Sheets for propylene glycol warns that the chemical can be rapidly absorbed through the skin, with prolonged contact leading to brain, liver and kidney abnormalities.
- Aroma: A term encompassing a whole host of unknown chemicals brands are not obliged to publish. Remember what I wrote on Fragrance here?
- Chemicals which are harmful to the environment like the synthetic dye Red 30 ( CI73360), Zinc Oxide, Cocamidopropyl Betaine and Zinc Citrate found in Colgate Total, Pentasodium Triphospahte found in Sensodyne Rapid action, Zinc Lactate found in Oral B Pro Expert etc.
- Bio-accumulation: Check out my post here.
And what about the tubes? Toothpaste tubes have traditionally been impossible to recycle because they are made from a mixture of plastic and aluminium. Consumers get through 20 billion packs of toothpaste every year with discarded tubes contributing to the plastic pollution crisis.
So, what can we do?
Buy solid toothpastes
Yup, they exist. You can buy them on a stick, in a pot, in the form of pastilles….so many forms and very little packaging which tends to be biodegradable and or in re-usable containers.
For those hardy souls who want to, press here to find out how to make solid toothbrush. Personally, it is not as easy to make as the below one but hey ho!
Make your own toothpaste/ tooth powder
You’ll be amazed at how simple and fast it is to make your own toothpaste and in a re-usable jar.
Recipe 1: The coconut oil toothpaste:
- 60 gm / 2 tbsp coconut oil
- 30 gm/ 1 tbsp sodium bicarbonate
- 5-10 drops Stevia (depending on how sweet you like your toothpaste)
- 10 drops Mint or Lemon Essential Oil
- Optional: 5 drops Cinnamon EO to destroy cavity causing bacteria
- Optional: 1 tsp activated charcoal for stain removal ( bear in mind your sink will need a bit more attention but your teeth will get more attention 🙂
Basically put everything in a jar and mix with a fork. Voilá.
- Use within 3 months
- In summer, keep in the fridge as it tends to melt and separate. Rake the solid mixture with a fork before usage
- Wash the recipient thoroughly before refilling
Recipe 2: The Bentonite clay toothpaste:
- 3 tbsp Bentonite clay
- 1/4 cup filtered/boiled water or more, if needed
- 2 tbsp coconut oil, melted
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 15-20 drops of essential oils (as in above recipe
In a glass or ceramic container (do NOT use metal as the clay loses its effectiveness because it absorbs the metals that it comes in contact with it), mix together bentonite clay, melted coconut oil, and water with a non-metal spoon until well-mixed
Add baking soda and essential oils and mix again.
If the toothpaste is too thick, add a little bit of water at a time until it reaches the right consistency. Done!
Recipe 3: Bentonite tooth powder
- 2 tbsp Bentonite Clay (removes toxins & alkalizes your mouth)
- 1 tbsp Organic Cinnamon (fights bacteria & adds flavor)
- 1 tbsp Baking Soda (helps remove stains, bacteria and plaque; reduces irritation; exfoliates & alkalizes your teeth)
Mix ingredients in a glass jar with a non-metal utensil (see above)). Store with a lid.
To use: wet your toothbrush slightly and apply a pea sized amount of tooth powder onto your brush or run your toothbrush through the powder and pour some water with your fingers on the brush- whichever suits you.
Any other suggestions? Please feel free to enlighten us all 🙂