15th June 2021

When we think about how we care for our mouth, it might be easy to think that there is little in common between our oral health and the environment – but that’s not quite true.  In addition to turning off the tap when brushing (which saves us a staggering 12 litres of water each time), there’s an important connection that applies to all of us – and it revolves around our toothbrush.

Toothbrushes form a part of our daily routine.  Twice a day, morning and night, for two minutes, they help clean our teeth and keep our mouth fit and healthy.  Despite this, the shelf-life of a toothbrush is a relatively short one.  In theory, we should only use each one 180 times, for a total of six hours over a period of three months.

It all means that in the UK, around 256 million toothbrushes are bought and discarded every year. That's a very big pile of plastic so what can we do about it?

As part of National Smile Month, the Oral Health Foundation and TePe have joined forces to address some of the most urgent environmental issues in oral health.

Sourcing the right plastics

Plastics are a key material in toothbrushes for many reasons. They are flexible for moulding, have good durability and easy to keep clean.  Despite this, manufacturing, transportation, and disposability are all well-known issues that can have damaging effects on the environment. That’s why we must rethink our approach to plastics.

One of the most common and useful types of plastic is recycled plastic, however, it’s not always ideal for oral health products.  This is because it may contain hazardous materials that cannot come into contact with the mouth.  Because of this, it’s unlikely that recycled plastics in their current form can make their way into our toothbrushes… however, they often make for great packaging choices!

Oral health is currently embracing an exciting shift in the use of renewable plastics, like biobased plastic. These are made from plants such as sugar cane and the caster oil plant..  This is a positive move.  It takes us away from fossil-based plastics and helps create a smaller carbon footprint.  TePe are continuously looking for sustainable sourcing solutions, like sugar cane, which has a near negligible footprint.  They are a great example of an oral care company choosing the right types of plastic.  TePe use renewable energy for all their products, which means no emissions are released during the manufacturing process.

Being carbon neutral and product lifespan

Tackling climate change and the impact that comes with global warming is a challenge that all of us must take seriously.  Carbon emissions contribute to climate change and cause shrinking water supplies, increasing incidence of severe weather, and changes to the food supply.

One of the most important steps here is to lower our carbon emissions and become more fossil-free in our energy use.

The Oral Health Foundation and TePe are committed to achieving the UN Goals of climate change, with the latter taking on the challenge to reach for carbon neutrality in products and packaging in 2022.  This target is highly admirable, and it is now up to other oral care manufacturers and suppliers to follow suit.

Becoming carbon neutral requires vast changes in how organisations work. While these are being forged, it is important that manufacturers look more closely at extending the life of their products. Improving sustainability and prolonging the lifespan of oral care products is crucial if we are going to turn the tide on the environmental impact of plastics. Creating  less waste is a key priority for change.

Reusing our plastics

Extending the life of a toothbrush is not only a responsibility that oral care companies have – individuals and families can also make a difference.

Our findings show that four-in-five (80%) of us use our old toothbrush for an alternative purpose, which is great for the environment.

Scrubbing bathroom tiles is the most popular use (40%).  Not surprisingly, cleaning is the most common theme.  Almost a third (28%) of us use our past toothbrushes to assist in cleaning various kitchen appliances, more than a quarter (26%) to give an extra glimmer to our jewellery and roughly one-in-five (18%) use the oral hygiene product to shine our shoes.

Other popular uses include cleaning bike and car wheels, computer keyboards, toilets and toilets seats, fish tanks and fingernails. A clean sweep all-round!

A toothbrush can perform many functions around the home after it's time cleaning teeth and gums are over.  More toothbrushes now have ‘end-rounded', nylon bristles, which have been preferable to natural bristles for some time due to better quality and size control.  The grip of the handle is another factor which makes the toothbrush a formidable cleaning tool. Unlike scouring pads, which can be tricky to get a hold of, particularly when wet, the toothbrush's handle should be comfortable to hold.

Being better at reusing our old plastics is an easy and effortless way to extend the lifespan of our old toothbrushes and be a bit more environmentally friendly.

Another reason to smile

So, there we have it – a brief insight into oral health and environmental challenges. The Oral Health Foundation and TePe are both committed to driving change within the industry.  From the materials being used, to packaging, the transportation and manufacturing of products, as well as their  lifespan. These are all actions that feed into a bigger picture and give us all another reason to smile.

Our goal is simple. To live in a clean world where people are free of dental disease.  A healthy planet for a healthy smile.