From coral reef-safe SPFs to reusable makeup remover pads, by now your medicine cabinet is (hopefully!) chock full of eco-friendly finds. But take a closer look at your product-packed shelves, and you’ll soon realize that there are even more sustainable swaps you can make. See that? Sandwiched between your electric toothbrush and zero-waste deodorant is a good ole tube of toothpaste. And while that peppermint paste might do wonders for your teeth, it can do the opposite — read: wreak havoc — on the environment, due largely in part to the packaging.
Traditionally made of a combo of materials (i.e. aluminum, plastic), toothpaste tubes are incredibly difficult to recycle and, thus, end up in landfills. In fact, Americans throw out 400 million tubes annually, according to a report from Recycling International.
Housed in reusable jars or recyclable packaging, toothpaste tablets are essentially chewable Chiclet-sized bites that you chew into a paste and brush with, and they deliver the same oral health benefits. Ahead, everything you need to know about this eco-friendly toothpaste and the best toothpaste tablets to try for a sustainable smile.
What Are Toothpaste Tablets?
Toothpaste tablets are a toothpaste formula made without water that’s then pressed into a pill-like form. To use them, you pop a tablet into your mouth and chew, letting your saliva (or swig of H2O) help break it down into a paste, then brush using a wet toothbrush. That’s it!
Compared to traditional toothpaste, they have a similar ingredient base, but regular toothpaste includes H20 to create the creamy texture and often some type of preservatives, such as parabens or sodium benzoate, to keep the formula from going bad. (FYI, liquid can be a breeding ground for bacteria and mold, so most mixtures with water need something to help keep it fresh for longer.)
Both toothpaste tablets and tubes are available in fluoride-containing and fluoride-free options. ICYDK, fluoride is one of the top ways to strengthen enamel and prevent cavities and decay (so much so, in fact, that only toothpastes with fluoride get a stamp of approval from the American Dental Association). The CDC also recommends exposure to small amounts of fluoride for adults’ dental health (via drinking water or dental products), but some people still choose to go fluoride-free, since high amounts of fluoride can be toxic. (That’s why you shouldn’t swallow your toothpaste or mouthwash!) Studies show that children under six might be more prone to this toxicity, which is why many kids’ products are fluoride-free. If you do go the fluoride-free route for your toothpaste, it’s important to maintain other healthy oral habits, such as keeping a low-sugar and low-acid diet, drinking plenty of water to maintain the pH balance of your saliva, brushing regularly (preferably with an electric toothbrush), and flossing, says Michaela Tozzi, D.M.D., a cosmetic dentist in Las Vegas (fluoride also plays an important role in remineralizing your teeth.)
Because toothpaste tablets are formulated without using water, they can be made with few or even no preservatives, says Tozzi. So if you’re keen on using only natural products, this eco-friendly toothpaste might be even more up your alley.
Head’s up, though, as little to no preservatives can mean that the product has a shorter shelf life, says Tozzi. Yup, you read that right: toothpaste, from a tube or in a tablet, can go bad. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration requires brands to determine a product’s shelf life but it only needs to be listed for fluoride-containing toothpaste. Still, most toothpaste tablet (and tube) brands note the expiration date on the label. For example, the shelf life of both Bite’s and Hello’s toothpaste tablets are 24 months or 2 years when unopened.
Once opened, however, the shelf life can vary depending on factors such as the product’s packaging. For this reason, opt for those that come in containers that tightly close to lock out moisture and presser the toothpaste tablets, recommends Lawrence Fung, D.D.S., cosmetic dentist and founder of Silicon Beach Dental.
As of now, toothpaste tablets are not approved by the ADA and many are fluoride-free. But that doesn’t mean they don’t work — quite the opposite, actually. “Toothpaste tablets are an easy way to brush and are still very effective at plaque removal,” says Fung. And Tozzi agrees, adding that many of the natural ingredients featured in toothpaste tablets (think: coconut oil and sugar alcohols, such as xylitol and sorbitol) have antibacterial properties.
That’s great and all, but be warned: It might not be love at first bite. There’s a learning curve to liking toothpaste tablets since they need to be chewed before becoming a brushable paste. And this can be particularly difficult for those with dry mouth, as you need ample saliva to help melt the tablet into its brushable formula, explains Fung. If that’s the case, just swish some water around in your mouth as you bite.
And while doing good for the environment is paramount, it’s also important to note that toothpaste tablets tend to be more expensive than traditional tube versions (think: $30 for 4oz jar vs. $3 for 4.8oz tube). But, hey, helping the environment is ~priceless~.