SuttaCentral

When toothbrushes grew on trees: why I'm never using a plastic toothbrush again

This post is dedicated to @Ficus, who understands me & @Dana who may be interested. Actual Indian @faujidoc1 has probably seen this all before, so please bear with my learning journey…

For those of you who are not aware, inspired by blog [https://myplasticfreelife.com] (LINK NOW FIXED), I am currently on a personal mission to de-plastic my life. I have already stopped using several plastic items completely and intend to cut out several more very soon, in addition to the things I never used to begin with. My motto for the moment is just to focus on the things I can do, not the things I can’t do…if I can reduce 80%, it’s still better than 0% reduction. We’re blessed to have a local almsround that doesn’t typically feature much plastic, but down the road in our local centre of Cabramatta it’s a different story & I can’t cut out Cabramatta 100% just yet!

Even today, I saw a bird trying to eat some plastic.


Image from The rise of the ibis: How the 'bin chicken' became a totem for modern Australia - ABC News. Plastic is a part of modern bird diets.

BUT today I have good news: the latest item I have cut out completely is plastic toothbrushes. The environmentally friendly ones which are sold locally are unfortunately not 100% plastic free as they have nylon in the bristles. Also they cost actual money.

Many/most of you would know that the benefits of using a toothbrush (dantaka.t.tha) are praised in the AN, but obviously this is a natural, environmentally-friendly chew stick.

AN5.208 Dantakaṭṭhasutta

So I had been wondering whether chew-sticks, which are typically made of neem etc, and used in rural India and in the vinaya historically, may be a 100% plastic free option.

I had also wondered if one of our many super-environmentally conscious friends might just be able to buy some miswak (another term for chew sticks in the Muslim/Arab world), but then I noticed that even miswak comes wrapped in plastic! Oh no!

I had been at a loss, because even if I had a neem plant, I wouldn’t be able to cut it as a bhikkhuni. But then…I found out you can also use olive or palm! Success!

So I took a little break from SC work today to make my own 100% FREE dantaka.t.tha/chew-stick/natural toothbrush from a fallen palm frond I found on almsround. (Very fun and easy to do on a 15 minute break from Sanskrit stuff).

  1. Take centre of fallen palm frond, peel bark, and cut into toothbrush sizes with sharp knife.
  2. Chew end until bristles appear (can be optionally pre-soaked for a day to soften…but I am not patient enough for that)
  3. use bristles like ordinary brush (I am still using conventional toothpaste with it).
  4. store in breezy location, not in jar as it may grow mold if not 100% dry
  5. keep trimming down as needed

Pics of my new home-made toothbrush:


There is basically no difference between using the palm fibre brush and any other brush (I actually prefer the soft palm fibre). It requires less than 10 minutes prep and can last a few weeks when you cut it down. and it’s free & hygienic because you can cut a fresh edge. I’m not going back!

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Ayya Suvira, thank you for sharing that with us. That is a really nice innovative way, certainly great to know how to do it for emergencies and when we can’t buy a natural toothbrush. There are palm trees in my nearby park, so I will try to make one. But I will use the soaking method with a little Tea-tree oil.

I am using a bamboo toothbrush with natural bristles - not sure where the bristles come from. Also last time I was in Bundanoon, I bought natural dental floss (at Bundanoon Botanicals) made of bamboo fibre coated in charcoal, with a little glass dispenser and 2 refills. Very happy with that, and will get some more and as gifts too.

Great to read that you are aiming to minimise plastic use. Not as easy when you depend on donations from lay people. Even most toilet paper packs come wrapped in plastic. Social change requires education and if the monastic Sangha just passively accepts whatever they are given without educating lay people about right choices in the modern world, we end up with plastic flowers and fruit packed in plastics as offerings to the Buddha. What would the Buddha do about that, I wonder?
:anjal:

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I’m curious about the “Sanskrit stuff!” May I ask what you’re working on these days, Ayya? :pray:

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I admire your confidence on day one! Making a mental note to check in with you on this in a few weeks :grin:

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Wow, bamboo fibre dental floss…interesting!

Yes, it’s hard sometimes at the monastery. We have a lot of interactions with people that are often very brief and sometimes limited by the language barrier, but I don’t think that should stop us from doing what we can. Bearing in mind that Mettarama is a new, quiet place and I just take what I need from what is offered…it is more challenging with a larger community.

I had previously given some thought to the economics of the thing. There are certain areas where cutting down plastic is cheaper and easier for both the laity and the monastery.

So I am aiming to address those areas first, where I have a lot of agency and no plastic is a win-win (the toothwood being a great example of cheap, easy and win-win). The same is true of the environmental laundry powder: the earth choice stuff in the box is actually cheaper.

I may seek the cooperation of supporters at a later date once I have reached the end of things I can fix myself (it hasn’t happened yet…). TP wrapped in paper rather than plastic would be an obvious one to look at…again, where the environmental option is the cheaper option (as it often is) it’s actually not hard to indicate a preference to the dayakas. TP itself is not used universally in Asia but it’s nice to have it on hand! (:

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Making a mental note to check in with you on this in a few weeks :grin:

I’ll bring you one on Saturday, I’m seeking converts. :slight_smile:

@Khemarato.bhikkhu the point is that I don’t really know what’s happening with SC Sanskrit yet, there are about 300 sutta parallels there and I’m currently just doing a stock-take & hopefully adding some better descriptions to what is currently just appearing as SF1, SF2, etc. There are a couple of longer texts there in the fragments that could be suitable for translation, but let’s see!

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You may be interested in “where there is no doctor’ and ‘where there is no dentist’ by Hesperian. The older versions were ‘digital commons’ for free download and if you search around you can find them. The new versions are paid.

In there, they recommend just using a rag wrapped around your finger as a toothbrush and string/cotton as floss.

I only go through 1 toothbrush a year. So while I admire your desire to save plastic, for me it would hardly be a saving. However, one of the other nuns discovered Terracycle who you can send old toiletries to and they will recycle them. Plus, if you have a not for profit they can receive points for recycling and use it as a fundraiser. They have programs for other items too.
recyclingnearyou.com.au is also a good resource for finding where to send all sorts of items which can’t be put in your curbside system.

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Yes, you are correct, I am very interested in the book, it sounds like remote Queensland.

Palm fibre >> rag bcos you still need to get the back, tongue & molars.

Re: recycling. I am not into recycling, I am into tree-cycling. But thankyou!

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If only there were palm fronds in Canada :maple_leaf:! It’s a great idea. Thank you for sharing Ayya.

Small steps make a lifetime of difference :pray:t4:

(I wish I had good sticks I could use that had the fibrous texture like the palm…hmm…lots of sappy and sticky deciduous and evergreens where I live…:grimacing::deciduous_tree::evergreen_tree: have to experiment or I’ll end up looking like Darth Sidious/ Emperor Palpatine …:rofl:)

I started using an electric brush years ago and only change the brush head when it’s fraying apart.( which is way more than a year since it’s so efficient at cleaning and doesn’t wear down easily). Cleaning them with vinegar and baking soda works well.

All this hard work… I’m just waiting until all my teeth fall out . :wink: Yay for anicca in this case!

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Is there risk for the bristles to be stuck into the mouth, like small splinter of wood stuck in the skin which becomes very painful and hard to take out?

Is your toothpaste tube plastic? Is there an alternative non plastic toothpaste tube?

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While reading the topic I coincidentally had the answer to your question.
There are these toothpaste tablets sold in glass containers which you could use for other things once its empty, I guess they would also be available where Venerable @Suvira lives.

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See

🪥🦷

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Is there risk for the bristles to be stuck into the mouth, like small splinter of wood stuck in the skin which becomes very painful and hard to take out?

It’s more like fibre than bristles, they are soft, so no splinters. There is a tiny bit of inoffensive cellulose pulp that can just be spat out when chewing one the very first time, after that the pulp is gone.

I’m still working out the toothpaste thing.

:slight_smile:

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What about oil pulling? Do you have access to coconut oil for cleaning the mouth? Most brands come in glass not plastic. Or is that considered too much of a food item to be left on hand?

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if it’s used for non-consumption purposes, coconut oil isn’t counted as food or tonic. It may be an option!

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I would think that use inside the mouth would make it better considered a tonic. But opinions will differ.

Toothpaste is really an optional thing, outside of possible benefits of fluoride for children (please lets not get into a debate about that, though). It’s a modern thing, I believe.

I’m allergic/sensitive to sodium laureth sulfate so I can’t use most tooth pastes out there. The only benefit I see for toothpaste is the breath freshening. And chewing on cardamom seeds can serve that purpose.

Where I used to live there were some natural food stores that sold neem sticks in bulk.

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You could also construct the argument that toothpaste (and all variants thereof) are like the medicinal part of the neem toothwood, and therefore is like toothwood, which doesn’t need to be formally offered, than coconut oil for consumption, which does…life is likely to go on in any case.

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Ficus, I checked your link to another thread, and am copying here part of your message
“Bentonite clay for teeth reduces the number of tubes of toothpaste immensely”

What an interesting idea!. I tried various things from just tootbrush and water, saline solution, to soap but reverted back to herbal toothpaste in a plastic tube.

But now, having checked online, I found that at my local Source Bulk Foods shop down the street, they sell food-grade Bentonite clay powder and very cheap. Before I didn’t even notice it there.

So I will try it out. It is food grade so should be safe enough.

But I hope it doesn’t erode tooth enamel though?

It could make a nice Xmas gift, in a jar, or just in a home-made origami box.

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Hi @Dana, there are two types of Bentonite clay; Sodium Bentonite and Calcium Bentonite. If it’s being used internally (ie. mouth) then calcium is recommended.

Some companies are a bit cheeky and sell SB as food grade, it won’t kill you but it can swell in the stomach (water follows salt) causing dehydration and digestive issues. If used in the mouth only, I suspect the sodium could erode the teeth or enamel over a long period of time. So my advice, don’t always trust food grade, verify that it is indeed CB before using internally.

Another alternative is xylitol (birch sugar). This is a natural sugar that is a dentist recommended alternative to fluoride. Once you get over the feeling of brushing your teeth with sugar it’s great. Could also blend with Bentonite or coconut oil.

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It will! As will all toothpastes, but this is very abrasive. I use teeny sprinkle on my brush ( I have it stored in a spice bottle :grin:).
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol so caution using it as it can cause digestive issues if u consume too much. And it is generally found in basically sugar-like granules which will sandpaper your teeth.:scream: My partner is allergic to it, so be cautious as it may not work for everyone.

I do this but I grind it to a very fine powder b4 mixing.

Moderation is key :grin:

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