Is a bamboo toothbrush right for you?

Keywords: mold, case, holder, benefits, bristles, and maybe made in usa

by Dr. Adrian Acosta | Feb 10, 2020 | Dental Health | 0 comments

You may be concerned about where your plastic waste is ending up. If so, you’re not alone. Most of us have seen the photos of plastics blanketing the seas. And toothbrushes, especially the handles, are part of the problem. Could easily degradable bamboo toothbrushes be part of the solution? 

Plastic toothbrushes end up in oceanic trash piles

According to some estimates, humans blow through five billion toothbrushes a year. A toothbrush is not a lifetime investment. We toss them for good reasons. 

The bristles in a brand new toothbrush start to bend after just a few weeks of use. Once that happens, the toothbrush is much less effective at cleaning. An old toothbrush can even damage your gums. For health reasons, most people need to trade out their old toothbrushes for new ones at least every three months. 

We throw out our toothbrushes, hoping they will go to appropriate landfills. But for too many reasons to recount here, they often end up in the ocean instead, crowding out marine life and even killing sea turtles and dolphins. 

The average toothbrush will take two thousand years to disintegrate. A bamboo toothbrush in the same circumstances will biodegrade much more quickly and have a lower negative impact. 

What does a typical bamboo toothbrush look like?

A bamboo toothbrush will look and feel very similar to any other toothbrush. It’s likely that the only noticeable difference will be the natural color. Bamboo toothbrushes will most often be some hue of brown or beige, with beige or white bristles.

The bristles

There are two different kinds of bamboo toothbrush, one made entirely of bamboo and one with a bamboo handle and nylon bristles. 

Bamboo bristles

Those who are aiming for a zero-waste lifestyle may prefer the wholly bamboo product. But you should be aware that many dentists consider bamboo bristles too sharp and tough for optimal dental health. 

If you do opt for an all bamboo brush, you may need to adapt your brushing style. Go gentle. The least amount of pressure you need to get your mouth clean will be the ticket. 

You will need to be extra vigilant about bristle wear. Check the bristles at least once a week. If in doubt, toss that brush and get a new one. The optimal turnover for toothbrushes is four to six weeks. 

Nylon bristles

Most bamboo toothbrushes are made with bamboo handles and nylon-6 or nylon-4 bristles. Some of these models have dentist approval. A few dentists have even participated in the design of these earth-friendlier bamboo toothbrushes. 

 Photo courtesy of Jeangagnon via Wikimedia Commons

The handle

The bamboo handle will be approximately the same size and shape as the plastic toothbrush handle that you are used to. A bamboo handle may be a little lighter weight, but you will adjust to that very quickly. 

It may also be smoother than you are used to. Plastic toothbrushes are usually designed with grooves in the handles. These grooves keep the handle from slipping out of your grip. Many consumers report that bamboo is naturally more slip resistant. So the handle may or may not be designed exactly like the plastic toothbrush you used previously.

The packaging

Most people who care about plastics pollution are also sensitive to plastic packaging. They are offended by boxes inside boxes and shrinkwrap inside plastic bubbles. They call this “overpackaging.”

You will find that purveyors of bamboo toothbrushes are trying to avoid the mistake of overpackaging. At the same time, if you are getting your bamboo toothbrush in the mail, its packaging has to conform to United States Post Office standards.

Expect to get your toothbrush in a low-profile, minimally wrapped brown box or brown paper. The packaging is likely to be quickly biodegradable, as is the toothbrush itself. 

Ditch the case

Bamboo is more porous than plastic. That means a bamboo toothbrush will be more susceptible to developing mold. The solution? Air it out overnight, standing up in a cup or glass, rather than putting it in a case or holder. 

It’s worth saying that anything can develop mold if it spends too much time in a damp, wet space without light or ventilation. So plastic toothbrushes are best left to air out overnight as well. 

Bamboo toothbrushes are manually operated

The downside to bamboo toothbrushes is that they don’t come with batteries or cords. Most people can maintain good dental health with a manual toothbrush. But if you have dental complications, a bamboo toothbrush might not work for you.

For instance, people who are on medications that put extra stress on enamel or gum lines may want to stick to power brushes and offset their eco-footprint by donating to Sierra Club or cycling to work.

Where can I find a bamboo toothbrush?

So far, only a few retailers carry bamboo toothbrushes. You may have better luck finding one on Amazon or an online dental products store. 

Many bamboo toothbrush makers encourage you to subscribe to their product. Once you’ve set up your subscription, a new toothbrush gets mailed to you every six weeks, and you can quit thinking about it. Also, you will always know when it’s time to rotate out your brush.

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