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A brush with bamboo... the green way to clean your teeth

Using eco-friendly toothbrushes is one way to make a difference

By Jess Denham

It's estimated that 3.6 billion plastic toothbrushes are used worldwide every year, with the average person using 300 in their lifetime. Unfortunately, roughly 80% of these end up in the sea, where they pose a risk to marine life and habitats.

Each toothbrush takes up to a thousand years to decompose, so it's little wonder that by 2050 it's predicted that there will be a higher volume of plastic in the oceans than fish.

The only fully biodegradable toothbrushes use natural bristles made from pig or badger hair. Obviously, these are not vegan-friendly and dentists claim they are too abrasive on our delicate gums.

Dr Mervyn Druian, co-founder of the London Centre for Cosmetic Dentistry, warns that because natural bristles retain moisture, they're "a breeding ground for bacteria and malodour", and should, therefore, be avoided for health reasons.

He recommends compromising between eco-friendliness and the need for effective dental care by using a bamboo-handled brush with plastic bristles, so we've taken his expertise on board for this round-up.

The toothbrushes listed here are all biodegradable bar their bristles, which are made from nylon which is free from BPA (a chemical used to make certain plastics that can seep into drinks, possibly leading to an increased risk of health problems such as increased blood pressure, heart disease and impaired brain development in children).

The downside is that they will need to be plucked out with pliers before throwing your brush onto the compost heap. Alternatively, you can chuck yours into a standard rubbish bin, safe in the knowledge that the bamboo will only take a couple of years to decompose in landfill.

Dr Eddie Coyle, dentist and clinical director at Bupa Dental Care, supports the rise in bamboo toothbrushes but advises taking extra care to keep yours clean: "Once you finish brushing, rinse the bristles for 30 seconds to wash away remaining toothpaste or food debris, and avoid leaving your toothbrush in a warm, damp case or holder as this encourages the growth of microorganisms."

There is no hard and fast rule on how often you should replace a toothbrush. "When the bristles start to curve, bend or fold over, it's time to get a new one," he says.

The Environmental Toothbrush: £2.64, Boobalou

This toothbrush is made from Moso bamboo, which grows a metre a day without the need for fertiliser, making it highly sustainable. It is also 'panda-friendly' as pandas do not eat it or inhabit the area where it grows.

Created down under, this brand employs local farmers and pays them fairly. What makes this toothbrush our best buy is the care taken to heat-treat the bamboo to carbonise it. This process renders it water-resistant, preventing the growth of mould. Solid to hold, the medium nylon-6 bristles are on the softer side, which dentists recommend.

Even softer bristles are available for those with more sensitive mouths, as are smaller brushes for children.

The Pearly White Club Personal Subscription: £3 a month or £30 a year, The Pearly White Club

This is the UK's first bamboo toothbrush subscription service, delivering you a new toothbrush every six weeks. Their bristles come in a rainbow of colours.

The head is slightly smaller than others we tried, making reaching your back molars more comfortable, and the bristles are nylon-6.

There is a choice of soft or medium, with child-size brushes available too. The Moso bamboo is FSC-regulated to ensure that farming it does not damage panda habitats and a toothbrush is donated to the homeless every time someone subscribes.

If you just want the one brush to try, it'll cost you £3.99 including postage.

Save Some Green Bamboo Toothbrush: £2.50, Save Some Green

One of the original bamboo toothbrush companies, Save Some Green use Moso bamboo grown without fertilisers or pesticides. The bristles are nylon-4 (thought to decompose faster than nylon-6), and you can opt for soft or medium.

We switched between the two - giving our teeth a good clean with medium bristles before a few days of using the softer ones to protect our gums.

The handle may feel unsettlingly light at first if you're used to a heavier plastic toothbrush - top tip: save 75p per toothbrush by bulk-buying more than eight.

The Humble Co Humble Brush Bamboo Toothbrush: £3.99, Holland & Barrett

Designed by dentists, the handles are made from FSC-certified, sustainably grown Moso bamboo and the bristles are nylon-6. These soft bristles are on the firmer side and were longer than usual, allowing for greater reach. The ergonomic shape of the brush lets you grip it securely. A bit pricey when you'll likely need 12 a year but you can choose between pink, blue, yellow, white or black bristles. For every brush sold, the company gives a child in need one too, as well as educating them about oral care.

Georganics Bamboo Toothbrush with Soft Charcoal Bristles: £3.90, Georganics

This plastic-free oral care company's claim that bamboo handles are naturally non-slip proves fair, as we never felt like this toothbrush was going to fall out of our hands. The nylon-6 bristles are soft and infused with activated charcoal, known to absorb plaque, help whiten teeth and prevent bad breath.

We will need to test this brush for longer to notice any real difference in the colouring of our teeth, however, the bristles were firmer in action than we expected.

There's a kids' size available, as well as a medium-bristled brush. Natural floss, toothpaste and mouthwash are also available from this natural brand.

Mabboo Bamboo Toothbrush: £2.50, Mabboo

Ed Cheney's bamboo clothing and accessories brand Mabboo is now based in Bristol, where he has a shop. The soft brown bristles have rounded tips to minimise damage when brushing and the bamboo handle is incredibly light. You can save £1.50 by buying a pack of three, ideal for families. They only come in natural bamboo colour for now, and be careful to dry yours off between uses to avoid the development of mould. Choose the white bristles if you prefer a stiffer feel when brushing and a child size for the little ones.

The verdict

If you're concerned about bamboo and bathrooms proving a recipe for disaster on the mould front then The Environmental Toothbrush's heat-carbonised handle should ease your concerns, while we also love The Pearly White Club's hassle-free subscription model and cheery choice of colours. Save Some Green and Mabboo's simple but effective offerings are the kindest on your purse strings.

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