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Reusable floss is an important factor in green living if you are committed to maintaining dental hygiene and environmental friendliness at the same time. Traditional dental floss is terrible for the environment and is not created out of readily biodegradable materials.
So, does reusable floss actually work? The answer is yes, reusable silk-based organic floss is effective at cleaning teeth while also preventing plastic waste. While silk-based floss involves some ethical issues related to silkworm breeding, but it is preferable to traditional nylon dental floss for environmental protection.
In the 21st century, there are plenty of alternatives available for those who would prefer not to use floss that is damaging to the environment. Read on to find out more about some popular brands of reusable floss and why they are a better option than nylon.
Is Dental Floss Reusable?
Neither traditional dental floss nor “reusable” dental floss is actually reusable. The American Dental Association (ADA) does not recommend that floss be reused for a couple of reasons:
- It will fray and lose its structural integrity, weakening its effectiveness. Anyone who flosses their teeth regularly knows that even fresh floss will weaken and break when used repeated at the same points, so forget about trying to save old floss to use it again.
- It can redeposit bacteria into the mouth. Floss is not designed for reuse and floss that has been frayed by use can harbor not only old bacteria left over from your mouth, but also introduce bacteria to your mouth from anywhere you choose to store your used floss.
- There is no effective way to sanitize used dental floss. Since floss cannot be cleaned, it is not sanitary to put it back in your mouth after it has been used. Most people are never tempted to reuse floss since it is relatively inexpensive, but there are cleaner options for green living than trying to make your old used floss last for more than one run.
Beyond dentist recommendations, it is pretty unsanitary to give floss a pass back through your mouth after you have already deposited all of your previous dental plaque and food debris on it. Fortunately, there are ways to incorporate flossing into your dental hygiene routine that do not involve mounds of disposable plastic ending up in a dumpster somewhere (or even worse, the ocean).
Rather than focusing on making the floss itself reusable, green living experts have instead focused on creating floss that comes from environmentally sustainable sources (such as silkworms) rather than petroleum-based plastics, and on reducing the amount of unnecessary plastic packaging necessary in dental floss distribution.
Why Get Reusable Dental Floss?
Getting a reusable form of dental floss is an excellent way to increase your environmental awareness in the home. Not only is the excessive plastic packaging used in disposable floss packs not recyclable or biodegradable, but nylon dental floss is not readily biodegradable either. It can take thirty to forty years to decompose.
Not only does traditional dental floss introduce massive amounts of plastic waste into our environment, when nylon floss ends up in the ocean, but it can also cause excruciating, lingering deaths for marine wildlife that may get tangled up in the floss or may accidentally eat it after mistaking it for a jellyfish or small animal.
Because dental floss is used daily, plastic dental floss containers and the nylon floss itself can build up over a year, and each person can use up to 122 yards of dental floss a year. When you think about how many millions of people there are in the world, that adds up to a lot of unnecessary excess plastic waste.
Reusable dental floss is not just environmentally friendly; it is arguably a more aesthetically pleasing option than traditional plastic-packaged floss. Most reusable flosses come in well-designed containers that come in high-quality materials like glass and metal.
Reusable Alternatives to Dental Floss
There are three main reusable alternatives to traditional dental floss. Here are some of the choices you have:
- Nylon floss in recyclable containers: These environmentally aware dental flosses still use nylon (which makes them less environmentally friendly than some) but come in recyclable containers. This floss is a good option for vegans since it does not involve animal products. There are also vegan dental flosses that feature different wax coatings other than beeswax.
- Silk floss in recyclable containers: Silk floss is preferable to nylon floss since it is readily biodegradable, non-toxic, and can be created through a renewable resource (silkworms). However, silk floss is not a suitable choice for vegans since it involves the exploitation of the silkworm insects for their silk.
- Water pick: A water pick is the ultimate reusable dental floss—it does not leave disposable plastic waste, and it effectively removes dental plaque and debris from the mouth. The downsides of a water pick are that they are comparatively more expensive than other flossing alternatives and involve the use of water streams to dislodge particles rather than nylon or silk floss. They also are not considered as effective at cleaning teeth as either traditional or alternative flosses.
Up until recently, there have not been many feasible alternatives to traditional dental floss since it is a relatively specialized tool. However, advances in materials engineering and green technology have led to new dental floss designs that are pushing the envelope for zero waste living.
Why Traditional Flosses Are Bad for the Environment
The most significant advantage of reusable alternatives to dental floss is that they pose a minimal impact on wildlife and the environment. Reusable alternatives to traditional dental floss are a fantastic choice for people who are trying to remove as much excess plastic from their consumer lifestyle as possible.
While silk does involve the sacrifice of domesticated silkworms, making it an unfavorable choice for vegans, silk flosses are arguably a preferable alternative to nylon flosses which pose several severe environmental problems, particularly if they end up in the ocean:
- Ingestion: Animals such as sea turtles accidentally ingest floss along with other floating plastics in the ocean because, in moving water, these materials resemble a jellyfish, one of the sea turtle’s favorite types of prey. Turtles that swallow nylon floss or become tangled in it can suffer for weeks or even months before death.
- Entanglement: Larger animals such as dolphins and seals can be entangled in nylon floss. This floss is capable of causing gruesome wounds when it tightens and begins cutting into the animal’s skin, leaving them vulnerable to secondary infections and starvation.
- Microplastics: Nylon is a type of plastic that eventually breaks down into microplastics. Microplastics are dangerous because they are easily mistaken as food by many different marine animals, from sea birds to whales. Once ingested, cumulative amounts of microplastic can cause bowel impactions and death.
In terrestrial environments, traditional floss can still be dangerous if accidentally ingested by wildlife or if they become tangled in it. But on land, the most significant threat nylon poses is its durability—nylon doesn’t decompose for thirty to forty years, so as far as the environment goes, it is a significant burden.
Can Regular Dental Floss Be Recycled?
You might think that since dental floss is made of plastic and some plastics are recyclable that dental floss should be recyclable, too. Unfortunately, dental floss is constructed out of mixed materials (plastic and wax), which makes it unsuitable for recycling.
This is one of the reasons that silk floss is a more environmentally friendly alternative to traditional dental floss—while silk floss cannot be recycled either, it is 100% biodegradable and non-toxic, which means it has no negative impact on the environment once it’s been used.
The production of silk for alternative dental flosses also does not cause habitat loss or damage like nylon floss since silkworms are domesticated and raised in a farm environment. Silk floss breaks down before it can pose a danger to wildlife.
Other reusable alternative flosses, such as bamboo dental floss, are also biodegradable. This puts these flosses leagues ahead of their nylon predecessors when it comes to minimizing environmental impact and preventing accidental wildlife death. Most reusable dental floss alternatives can be directly composted into the garden.
Reusable Alternatives to Dental Floss
Thanks to the advent of green technologies, there are now dozens of reusable alternatives to traditional plastic-packaged nylon dental floss. Here are some of the many alternatives available:
- Radius Silk Floss: Radius Silk Floss is an unscented, natural floss that is packaged in biodegradable silk floss sachets rather than wasteful plastic packaging. The natural silk is waxed with candelilla botanical wax, and Radius Silk Floss is manufactured by a fair-trade cooperative in Columbia that employs eighty families.
- Bambo Earth: Bambo Earth is another glass bound eco-floss that is waxed with candelilla wax and comes with a minimalist container. This floss is 100% compostable and is advertised as suitable for flossers with sensitive gums. If you are looking for an option that is 100% free of chemicals, Bambo Earth is a good choice.
- Eco Fox: Biodegradable Mint Floss from Eco Fox features a reusable glass container with a metal cap as well as a 33-yard spool of floss. Since it has very environmentally friendly packaging and a refillable design, Eco Fox is an excellent choice for the minimalist who is still interested in maintaining impeccable dental hygiene.
- Treebird: Treebird’s pure silk floss is compostable and comes in a glass carrying container. Like many environmentally conscious companies, Treebird’s goal as a company is to reduce the impact of excess plastic waste as much as humanly possible. Even the packaging is easily composted since the box is made of thin craft paper, and the ink is made from soybeans.
- Mother Earth Dental Floss: This charcoal-treated dental floss is a good option for vegans and features peppermint essential oil for flavoring. Mother Earth Dental Floss is also a fantastic option for consumers who prefer to give back with their purchases, as ten percent of every purchase given to Mother Earth is donated to environmental and ocean conservancies.
- GOGRS Dental Floss: GOGRS Dental Floss comes with three spools, a recyclable container, and a mild, natural mint flavoring. Some users had complaints that this floss is somewhat fragile compared to other reusable floss types, which may make it a less suitable option for those with tightly spaced teeth.
- Ecodent: Ecodent is a vegan waxed floss that comes in a cardboard dispenser that is recyclable, giving it a leg up on comparable traditional flosses. While Ecodent does not offer an entirely plastic-free packaging experience (there are a few small plastic pieces in the dispenser that allow the floss to unspool correctly), it is still a significant step in the right direction for environmentally friendly dental flosses.
- KMH Touches FlossPot Gold: KMH Touches FlossPot is one of the more luxe options in reusable floss, coming not only with a refillable glass container but also a sleek travel case as well that features a built-in mirror for convenient on-the-go flossing. One of the great things about this floss is its compact size, with the floss pot being roughly the size of a lip balm container.
- Boonboo Dental Floss: This bamboo charcoal floss from Synergy Products comes with three months’ worth of floss. A major benefit of bamboo floss over other green flosses such as corn fiber and silk is that bamboo floss is more durable than these other natural fibers, making it an excellent choice for those with tightly spaced teeth or who tend to floss roughly.
- Wowe Silk Zero Waste Floss: Like Vömel Silk Floss, Wowe silk floss is manufactured from Ahimsa peace silk, meaning that while the silkworms are still killed in the process of manufacturing the silk, they are allowed to die naturally rather than being boiled alive during the silk manufacturing process. Wowe Silk Zero Waste Floss comes with three refills, each thirty-three yards in length.
- Lucky Teeth: Lucky Teeth is a bamboo type reusable floss with activated charcoal for its whitening properties. An interesting addition to Lucky Teeth compared to other organic flosses is the addition of tea tree oil, which acts as a natural antibacterial and antiviral agent. This is in addition to the mint oil that acts to reduce inflammation and freshen breath.
Whether you prefer silk floss or bamboo floss, vegan floss or non-vegan floss, glass containers or disposable sachets, there are tons of options available in reusable dental floss alternatives. Because these companies are involved in a concentrated effort at environmental protection, you can feel assured that your money is being well-spent to promote greener living.
Can You Use Cotton Thread to Floss Your Teeth?
Cotton thread might seem like a natural makeshift alternative to traditional dental floss since it is biodegradable and does not involve animal cruelty, but the truth is that cotton thread is not ideal for flossing your teeth. Not only is it too fragile to floss easily without snapping, but it also does not feature any kind of wax coating to reduce friction when you slide it between your teeth.
You are subject to friction burns and other gum injuries if you try to floss too hard with cotton thread, so it’s a better idea to break down and get some decent reusable floss if you’re trying to use biodegradable flossing materials.
Luckily, there are now plenty of commercial alternatives to traditional floss available that will give you quality flossing results without breaking the bank. There is no need to resort to cleaning your teeth with cotton thread, a ribbon, or any other rigged floss.
Water Flossing and Reusable Floss
Another excellent green addition to reusable dental floss that actually works is a water pick. These dental tools are a good option for those who want to participate in environmentally friendly dental hygiene, but find traditional flosses uncomfortable due to spacing of teeth, textural issues, etc.
While water picks are a more expensive option than traditional and green dental flosses, the advanced technology present in water picks allows for options like gum massages and a wide variety of different functions.
The main concern with water flossing is that water picks are not considered equivalent to brushing or flossing your teeth according to the ADA. While water picks are a suitable supplementary oral hygiene tool for helping to dislodge food from between your teeth, it is not an efficient tool for scrubbing away the bacterial colonies coating the enamel of your teeth.
Instead, water picks can serve as an additional tool to use alongside reusable floss to achieve the highest level of oral hygiene possible while remaining environmentally friendly.
Buying Reusable Floss Is a Good Investment in the Environment
Most people do not think about the sheer amount of nylon dental floss they throw away each year or however long it takes for this floss to phase out of the environment safely. However, thanks to the many types of reusable floss available that actually work, there is no need to participate in a destructive, environmentally hostile consumer cycle anymore when it comes to dental hygiene.