a blog by J.M. Cottle
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Is there a perfect toothbrush?

I’ve always gotten a free toothbrush when I went to the dentist for a cleaning, but I missed my last cleaning due to moving across the country. Left to my own devices, I tried to find a toothbrush that was cheap, easy to aquire, and — most importantly — not too environmentally offensive.

I used Beth Terry’s post about toothbrushes to guide me. She talks about three different options: one from Life Without Plastic, one from Environmental Toothbrush, and one from Preserve.

The toothbrush from Life Without Plastic is made in Germany out of wood with boar bristles. I immediately ruled it out because I’m not comfortable with buying animal products if I can avoid it. The one from Environmental Toothbrush is sold in Australia, but it’s made in China out of bamboo with nylon bristles. I decided not to get that one because it comes in a big package and I don’t have the money to buy 12 toothbrushes and ship them halfway around the world, especially since I wasn’t sure if they would work for me or not.

There are a few other wooden toothbrushes I’ve seen around the web, but they either had boar bristles or came in big packages or both.

I ended up going to my local natural grocery store and picking up a brush from Preserve, which is made in the USA out of recycled plastic. I’ve had it for a few weeks now, and here are my thoughts so far:

Pros:

  • Preserve toothbrushes are recycled and recyclable. They are made from recycled new plastic, such as yogurt containers, and when the toothbrush is recycled its material is made into less fussy things like park benches.
  • Preserve takes responsibility for recycling its products. The package my toothbrush came in doubles as a mailer. When it’s time to get a new toothbrush, I just stick the old one into the pre-paid mailer and send it back to Preserve to be recycled.
  • You can buy a subscription that sends you a new toothbrush every three months as recommended by dentists. I just think it would be cool to have a toothbrush subscription.
  • It’s cheaper than the wooden toothbrushes I have seen.
  • The soft bristles are just the right softness for me. You can get medium or ultrasoft as well. I’ve heard that some of the wooden toothbrushes have really stiff bristles.

Cons:

  • They are still made of plastic, and plastic is not an environmentally friendly material.
  • While they are made of recycled plastic, they still require new plastic to be made. Rather than being a closed loop where the material goes back to be made into more toothbrushes, they are just slowing the plastic down on its path to the landfill. I’m not sure if it’s better to take advantage of the recycled plastic we’ve already got, since it’s not going to be breaking down anytime soon, or if it’s better to abstain from plastic altogether in the hope that new plastic will not be made. In the meantime, I’m happy to support a company that’s making this kind of effort.
  • The curve of the handle took some adjusting on my part, since I’m used to a straight handle. I like straight handles better but it’s not a big deal. At least there is a small flat part on the head of the brush so that it doesn’t roll all over the place while it’s lying down.
  • It’s not free, like the ones I used to get from the dentist.

All in all I’m pleased with my choice. The fact that Preserve takes responsibility for their recycling was the biggest draw, for me, because “recyclable” is meaningless if no one buys the materials and uses them. A lot of things that we put into our recycling bins just end up in landfills anyway. I considered getting a toothbrush handle with replaceable heads, like the one from Eco-Dent, but it was more expensive than a Preserve brush and it wasn’t recycled. I may go ahead and buy a big package of wooden brushes next time I need a new one. Or I may get a subscription from Preserve — perhaps with surprise colors!

Cutting down on buying new plastic is one small, small step in the direction of not destroying the environment every time I do anything. Next step: get the dentist to give out better toothbrushes.

3 Responses to Is there a perfect toothbrush?

  1. Awesome Post! Now where is one on toothpaste? I just spent quite a bit of time doing research on ewg.org/skindeep researching some options. What brand/type do you trust?

  2. Just adding my two cents because a discussion about the “perfect” toothbrush without setting a high standard for the most pressing reason – health or in this case, toxic chemicals – seems incomplete. Don’t forget or minimize that every time you rub the synthetic fibers of your plastic/nylon tooth brush against your teeth and gums, the microscopic-micrograms of abraded material typically are not fully rinsed out, left to the very absorptive tissue of the mouth or worse to dissolve and find a persistent, bioaccumulative residue-state via stomach acid.

    While this may seem nitpicking to some, how many times do you brush, every day, replacing your toothbrush how often and in what (visible) state? And when you consider the mind-boggling and myriad sources, in our consumer driven and caveman-tech world, bringing synthetic toxins that as a species we’ve had an inappropriate amount of time to acclimate to and bio-mechanically adjust for (when it’s taken us millions if not billions to evolve to other, natural challenges), for an already overwhelmed and underprepared body to clear, detox, store or suffer — recycling is no solution.

    While I applaud your attention to recycling, as far away and Utopian world as it seems, recycling must be part and parcel of simply the first steps of replacement or removal of bioaccumulative, persistent, harmful, toxic, hormone disrupting, neurotoxic, etc, petro-plastics et al. Hard to believe today in our very low aiming, long-term goals of fiscal-quarters, but chemicals that interact with biological processes in a detractive or non-supportive role, only take away from our chances to survive and succeed.

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