As concerns over the plastic pollution crisis grows, and sustainability becomes top of mind for many consumers, new, eco-friendly oral care brands have sprung up to provide zero-waste and environmentally friendly alternatives.
One product getting the eco-treatment? Toothpaste. Traditional toothpaste tubes (you know, the squeezy ones) are made of a mixture of plastic and aluminum, making them really hard to recycle. Though there are some private recycling programs that can process your finished tubes, most cities don’t have the proper systems in place, and by some estimates, 20 billion tubes go to landfills annually worldwide.
Enter toothpaste tablets, which are plastic-free, eco-friendly, and zero-waste. But do they actually work? And do they prevent cavities, like traditional toothpaste? Here’s what you need to know about toothpaste tabs.
Basically, toothpaste tablets take the ingredients that are in normal toothpaste and condenses them into a small, mint-sized tablet. “It’s a compressed, dehydrated toothpaste,” says Kevin Hagel, the co-founder of Nelson Naturals, a Canadian company that makes toothpaste tablets and other zero-waste toothpaste products.
There’s a ton to love about toothpaste tablets: they’re pre-portioned and great for travel (when that’s a thing again). Most products on the market, including Nelson Naturals’, come in recyclable or reusable packaging-usually paper containers or glass jars that can be refilled at local zero-waste shops. (This both bolsters local economies and eliminates any extra emissions that would come from shipping directly back to the store.) “Most areas in Canada and the U.S. have [a store that stocks Nelson Naturals] fairly nearby unless you’re in a very rural area,” says Hagel. “The jars truly have a circular lifespan.”
Just pop a tablet in your mouth and bite down. The tablet will start fizzing and foaming in your mouth. Then, just brush like you normally would.
You can also use toothpaste tablets like mints or mouthwash. “Even if you don’t brush, [the tablets] have an alkalizing effect in your mouth,” says Dana DiPono, Nelson Naturals’ cofounder. “If you’ve had snacks or tea or coffee and your mouth is in a really acidic state, it’s really easy to pop one in and swish it around [to clean your mouth].”
I tried Nelson Naturals’ Crush and Brush toothpaste tabs and I found them super easy to use. They foamed up nicely and my teeth felt clean after two minutes of brushing. The toothpaste also didn’t taste weird (which, if I’m being honest, was a real fear of mine). I also liked how fresh my mouth felt after brushing with them, and I even tried using them after downing a big cup of coffee and the tablets did a great job eliminating my coffee breath.
Because most companies that produce toothpaste tabs (or other zero-waste toothpaste options) don’t include fluoride in their product, toothpaste tabs might not be the best choice for your dental care.
Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral found in soil, water and various foods and it aids in oral care by making teeth more resistant to decay. Or, in other words, it helps prevent cavities. “The combination of the actual mechanical removal of plaque that sits on your teeth, plus the active ingredient in the toothpaste, that’s what cleans your teeth,” says Dr. Taha Chersa, an Edmonton-based dentist. “Fluoride is the main [ingredient to look out for]. As long as a toothpaste has fluoride, everything else is extra.”
Until zero-waste toothpaste options have fluoride, I think I’ll be sticking with my hard-to-recycle toothpaste tubes. Hopefully, a sustainable toothpaste with fluoride will exist one day, so I can eliminate the plastic waste without being concerned about my oral care.