It hit me a few weeks ago – if nylon is a possible isothiazolinone contamination issue due to MI’s presence in the lubricating oils used while manufacturing the fibre, what about my toothbrush? Every drug store and commercial outlet sells nylon-bristled toothbrushes, seen to be the best in modern tooth care. Meanwhile, I’ve been having gum recession and tooth sensitivity on my top back teeth. What if nylon isn’t best when you have chemical allergies?
A little while ago I looked into toothbrush alternatives, but it wasn’t until I decided that I *needed* to try something different that I seriously researched. Tooth cleaning methods seem to fall into three main categories: Sticks, cloth, and toothbrushes.
Sticks have been used since ancient times as a method of cleaning the teeth. Usually, the bark is removed and the end is chewed to wet it and to form a sort of bristle, at which point the stick can be used to brush the teeth. The brushing technique is a little different than with a toothbrush, but can be picked up fairly quickly. After one or a few uses, the end of the stick is trimmed and the stick can be further chewed to make new bristles. Sticks tend to be slightly more wearing on the teeth than toothbrushes, so brushing technique is important. There are two main kinds of stick used for tooth cleaning – neem and miswak.
Neem is used in ayeurvedic treatment for tooth care, so its presence as a tooth cleaning stick is unsurprising. Discussions of the use of neem sticks for tooth cleaning included comments such as, “I craved chewing on the stick again,” and “Chewing on the stick was soothing,” which concerned me. Further research into whether neem is addictive yielded no clear results. Perhaps it is relaxing to people with oral habits, like smoking or sucking on hard candies or mints. Neem sticks are available in North America by the 1/4 kg from here. The one unfortunate side-effect of neem sticks is that they seem to leave an unpleasant odour in the mouth, which has also been noted in smoking cessation studies involving neem.
Miswak sticks, the other hand, seem to be only available online sourced from the Middle East. The stick itself is cut from the Salvadora persica tree, which seems to have some antibacterial properties. Some sources claim its use to 7000 years ago. Reviewers said that the taste was interesting, but easy enough to adapt to. There is some concern about the authenticity of various miswak sources, but the right sticks are said to come from Saudi Arabia.
From the time before we grow teeth, our parents are told they can clean our mouths by wiping with a wet wash cloth. Nowadays once we grow teeth out parents are told to switch to a brush. Oddly enough, cloth was used from ancient and medieval times as well, along with tooth powders made from herbs and spices. In medieval times, a small scrap of linen and some tooth powder were the cleaner of choice.
Since I was looking at non-nylon-bristled brushes, I’ll leave those out. There were two brushes that appeared to be more sustainable and less synthetic until I looked at them closer: biodegradable, vegetable-based nylon and bamboo charcoal. Unfortunately, although the vegetable-based nylon might be better than entirely synthetic nylon, I wanted to stay away from all polymers. The claim that it is biodegradable is also dubious, since landfill conditions are not optimal for biodegradation and most biodegradable products will sit in landfills for much longer than the manufacturers specify. “Bamboo charcoal” toothbrushes are made of nylon infused with bamboo charcoal. Still not nylon-free.
Next I came across toothbrushes with wooden handles and pig/boar bristles or horse hair for a brush. These were some of the earliest types of toothbrush, and some are available at LifeWithoutPlastic. These seemed like a pretty good compromise, but they do have some downsides. Pig/boar bristles are hollow, which means that bacteria can collect inside the bristles themselves. They are also a bit more abrasive than modern toothbrushes. Horse hair brushes are harder to obtain and more expensive again, since horse hair is more expensive.
From a dentist’s perspective, the main thing in cleaning teeth is to remove the built-up biofilm, especially around the gum line, and disturb the bacterial growth. I decided to try cloth. There would be no expense because I already have cloth in my home, and no chance of damaging or eroding my teeth like sticks or pig bristle toothbrushes might. I chose cotton terry due to its rough weave. This meant I could use any cotton facecloth. I wet the cloth with cold water, placed a section over my index finger, then rubbed the surfaces of my teeth. Every time the cloth got warm or slippery, I rinsed it with cold water and kept going. I used my nail to push the cloth closer to my gums and between my teeth. When my teeth were clean, I rubbed my gums, the roof, sides, and bottom of my mouth, and my tongue. I followed up by cleaning between my teeth (flossing) in the usual way.
I’ve only been doing this for a few weeks. I do notice that my teeth feel smoother and shinier. I don’t think my gum recession has been undone, but my teeth are less sensitive. My breath is better overall, and doesn’t turn bad as quickly or easily overnight. I can’t say that my teeth are as clean as they would get with brushing…yet. I have a dentist appointment/cleaning coming up next month when I should hopefully get some feedback about how I’ve been doing and whether my experiment has been a success.
Have you tried any of these nylon-free tooth cleaning methods? How did they work for you? Comment below.