DIY Tooth Powder - Ditch the Plastic Tubes
Unlike many DIY toothpaste recipes, this one uses simple ingredients that you won't need to purchase from a health food or specialty store. Who wants to spend a lot of time and effort making an essential personal care product?
Last updated August 12, 2017, Please note: I've discovered some controversial information about using baking soda as a tooth powder since originally publishing this post. I'll fill you in on the details, soon. But until then, I don't recommend using this recipe without consulting your dentist first. Even though baking soda is considered less abrasive than many commercial toothpastes, when used alone, it can be too harsh on gum tissue. I'll probably remove this post in the near future. I apologize for the confusion, but I don't want to share information that hasn't been well researched or that might cause harm. Laura
This post is no substitute for good dental or medical care, nor am I a doctor or healthcare professional. Please don't use this information to diagnose, prevent, treat or cure any ailment or disease. Also, if baking soda causes any irritation or discomfort, stop using immediately!
DIY Tooth Powder
I'm going to go ahead and give you the spoiler. Go to the store and buy a box of baking soda. Keep it in a clean, dry place in the bathroom. When you're ready to brush your teeth, sprinkle a small amount in the palm of your hand. Dip your moistened toothbrush into the baking soda and brush your teeth. OK, there's your one ingredient DIY tooth powder. Now you can get back to what you were doing. But you might not want to do that! I have some interesting facts about baking soda to share.
Toothpaste tubes: some myths
But first things first: What's so bad about toothpaste tubes? Can't I just toss my old toothpaste tube into the recycling bin? Contrary to common beliefs, toothpaste tubes, according to this site, are made of different kinds of plastics and sometimes aluminum, in addition, so they're difficult to recycle because of all the different materials. Quite frankly, most of the time, toothpaste tubes end up in the trash, taking 500-700 years to break down. In the process, they can leach harmful chemicals, which end up in groundwater.
And besides, recycling isn't all it's cracked up to be. Plastic can only be recycled once before ultimately ending up in the landfill, although some new technologies are looming on the horizon to change that. But how many plastic park benches and plastic sculptures do we really need? From an aesthetic point of view, I would think none.
OK, but what about turning recycled plastic bottles into clothing? Unfortunately, fibers from synthetic clothing end up in our oceans. Meanwhile, sea life ingests these fibers, which can ultimately turn up in our food. Fish à la microfiber, monsieur?
And even if it's BPA- free, is plastic really safe? I have my doubts. Check out this article and the Ecology Center on research behind BPA and other BPA-free plastics. I'm most comfortable avoiding it, but just like many of you, I have some legwork to do before completely ridding our home of all plastic.
Baking soda: some interesting facts
I'm not a big fan of time consuming DIY recipes. So, when I learned that simple baking soda is safe alternative to toothpaste, I was thrilled. At first, however, I was afraid it might be too abrasive to use in lieu of toothpaste. But after researching the topic, I learned it's not. (Here's the homepage of the primary source I used, Mark Burhenne DDS.)
On the Mohr's Scale of Mineral Hardness, a scale that rates the hardness of all minerals, baking soda is 2.5. To give you an idea of what this means, diamond has a hardness of 10; tooth enamel is a 5; and dentin is a 2.5. Dentin lies just under the surface of tooth enamel and can be exposed along the gum line. So, baking soda has the same hardness as dentin.
But let's dig a little deeper. All toothpastes on the market must be given an RDA value (relative dentin abrasivity). If you take a look at the chart in the link, above, which compares the RDA of many popular toothpastes, using baking soda for teeth brushing is a less abrasive alternative to many commercial toothpastes. That was an eye-opener.
More often than not, though, applying too much pressure while brushing and over-brushing in the same area are responsible for causing injury to enamel and gum tissue. A helpful tip for sensitive gums is to mix the baking soda with a small amount of water, first.
Benefits to baking soda
Beyond being safe, though, baking soda has some clear benefits. With a pH of 8.3, it reduces the risks of tooth decay (demineralization of enamel occurs at a pH of 5.5) and the bacteria responsible for periodontal pathogens. It's also inexpensive, and there's no plastic packaging to worry about—not to mention microbeads.
Even after singing it's praises, though, some people still find baking soda irritating to sensitive gums. There's an excellent blog post (My Plastic Free Life) about this topic along with information on other toothpaste alternatives.
The author tried using a non-toxic soap in lieu of toothpaste, as some have suggested. And I had the same response to this method as she did: I gagged. One option is to simply use a toothbrush without any toothpaste or tooth powder. This is how my twelve-year-old son used to brush his teeth, mostly out of preference.
Although I haven't tried this brand, Aquarian Bath sells tooth powder in metal tins in different varieties. I can vouch for the quality of other products sold on this website, but I haven't tried the tooth powder, yet.
For now, our family uses a slightly dressed up variety of DIY tooth powder, below.
DIY tooth powder - a fancier alternative to straight up baking soda
About 1/4 cup of baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt (not course)
12 to 15 drops of essential oil of peppermint
I purchase the essential oil of peppermint from Mountain Rose Herbs. Also, just so you know, I'm not affiliated with them in any way. But essential oils are readily available in most natural food stores, too. I just don't happen to live near one at the moment, and I trust Mountain Rose Herbs for quality.
Mix all of the above ingredients in a small bowl, making sure to evenly distribute the essential oil of peppermint. Based on my research, I use 3-5 drops of essential oil per 1 tablespoon of baking soda. Since my jar holds around 1/4 cup, which is 4 tablespoons, I use 15-20 drops. Simply adjust amounts for the size of your container.
A funnel is helpful when transferring the tooth powder to its final home. Honestly, I often mix the ingredients in the container itself. Because of the essential oil, make sure to use glass or stainless steel for storage. Other ideas for essential oils are referenced in the post mentioned above.
This seems obvious, but I don't recommend using this recipe with young children. First of all, they probably wouldn't appreciate the taste! But my twelve-year-old likes it fine, now. Secondly, essential oils are a tricky thing with children. Please consult with your dentist or doctor.
I did go ahead and purchase a stainless steel shaker for my DIY tooth powder as I wanted to keep the baking soda clean and dry. I also like that the shaker allows me to control the amount of soda being poured, and it closes with a quick turn of the lid.
But mostly, I'm a sucker for attractive containers. This really isn't necessary, though. An empty spice jar or a simple glass jar of any kind would work well too. I tend to buy my spices in bulk and re-use my spice jars. So, believe it or not, I didn't actually have one available. I suggest checking out local thrift stores. They often have lots of interesting options for DIY projects!
Make a difference
No, I can't solve climate change and plastic pollution by ditching my toothpaste. Just to remind you, almost all plastic products are manufactured from virgin plastic, which is derived from fossil fuels.
But what if we picked just one item packaged in plastic to trade out for a non-plastic alternative? I'm guessing that marketing departments would be required to find out why sales were down.
They would bombard us with online questionnaires regarding customer satisfaction for various items we had purchased in the past. What a surprise it would be for marketing departments to learn that we stopped purchasing their products simply because they were packaged in plastic.
Many environmentally friendly companies use plastic packaging, so my intent is not to put worthy companies out of business. Transitioning to alternative packaging is going to take some time and planning, even by concerned organizations.
But imagine more companies competing in the sustainable marketplace with environmentally friendly packaging being just as important as the products themselves. I believe that this is our future.
But we have to start somewhere. We need to let companies know how we feel about the health and environmental risks of plastic. I suggest even writing emails to companies that manufacture products you're particularly fond of, requesting they switch out plastic packaging for glass, metal or paper. I'm beginning to see some of these alternatives in the marketplace, already.
So, let me know how it goes. Does baking soda work for you? Have you tried other DIY tooth powder recipes? Would you consider contacting the manufacturer of one of your favorite products and request they change their packaging? I would enjoy hearing from you!