Through the tubes: should you brush your teeth with toothpaste tablets? | beauty

I’ve always enjoyed that scene in The Fifth Element where Milla Jovovich puts two tablets in a bowl, puts the bowl in the microwave, pings it instantly, and it comes out with a perfectly cooked roast chicken. Tablets that embody real phenomena like chicken have something pleasantly futuristic and Jetsonian about them. Or toothpaste.

Yes, toothpaste is now available in tablet form. No more hernia pressing or complicated tube origami to extract the last stubborn iota of paste. The future of dental care is bite-sized. Maybe.

Technically, toothpaste tablets aren’t toothpaste at all. They are a compressed powder made from substances such as xylitol (a natural sweetener that also fights oral bacteria), calcium carbonate (a chemical compound found in limestone and snail shells) and sodium bicarbonate (regular baking soda). They often also contain tartar, a common household bleaching agent made from tartaric acid, not to be confused with seafood sauce.

Toothpaste tablets are a compressed powder that you nibble into a paste. Photo: Mint Images / Getty Images / Mint Images RF

The toothpaste tablet market is estimated at around $ 20 million, but is expected to nearly double by 2026. Those are little mint potatoes compared to the global toothpaste industry of $ 18 billion, which is surprisingly hard to buy in person. Supermarkets, pharmacies and grocery chains still sell toothpaste in tubes like they did in 1995. At some point I managed to track down a few tablets in a vegan health food store. The glass bottle promises: “The most versatile and environmentally friendly toothpaste on the market.”

This is the big selling point for toothpaste tablets. Not only are they portable and heat-resistant – you can leave them in a hot car and they won’t melt into some kind of crude spearmint epoxy – they’re also much more sustainable.

Since its first appearance in 1898, tubular toothpaste has been a minor environmental disaster. “Conventional toothpaste tubes are not easy to recycle,” says Dr. Sahar Farzadnia from the independent environmental label program Good Environmental Choice Australia. “They’re usually made of several types of plastic, including the cap, and are sometimes laminated with a layer of metal, which can be another major barrier to recycling. This means that pipes can end up in landfills and disintegrate over time. “

An empty tube of toothpaste.Toothpaste tubes are made from a number of different materials, which makes them difficult to recycle. Photo: Mark Wragg / Getty Images

While companies like TerraCycle offer collection points for oral care products, many still end up in landfills. In addition, many toothpastes – around half according to the Beat the Microbead campaign by the Dutch NGO Plastic Soup Foundation – also contain microplastics, tiny indestructible plastic polymers that are spat into the sink and washed into the food chain.

Toothpaste tablets, on the other hand, are usually sold in glasses or recyclable plastic bottles. They are made from things that might be found in the back of an average pantry. Depending on your toothbrushing program, a bottle of 60 tablets should last about a month.

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One ingredient you won’t find in many tablets is fluoride, a proven cavity killer that has been standard since Procter & Gamble published Crest in 1956. Caption: “Look, Mom! No cavities! “

“There is no scientific evidence of how good toothpaste tablets are in terms of oral health,” says Dr. James Fernando, Dentist and Research Fellow at Melbourne Dental School. “Toothpaste should be able to remove plaque, prevent gum disease and tooth decay, and fluoride plays a big part in that. There isn’t a lot of clinical data on toothpaste tablets, and to be honest, I couldn’t find any laboratory data either. “

Fernando says the lack of fluoride in many brands of tablets is of concern, and while some contain beneficial ingredients like sodium bicarbonate and xylitol, there is no way of knowing how much of it ends up in your teeth without further study. “Put it that way,” he says. “Personally, I wouldn’t say to patients, ‘Hey, use this product’.”

I tried three brands of tablets and none advertised fluoride as an ingredient. In fact, many toothpaste tablets in this area are actively flaunting their fluoride-free status, and this is worrying as research suggests that fluoride-free oral care products, often marketed as “natural,” tend to increase tooth decay. An exception to this is the German brand DentTabs, which contains fluoride and is widely available online in Australia.

So how do you actually use toothpaste tablets? Toothy Tabs from British cosmetics brand Lush instructs users “to nibble a tablet with a toothpaste and then use a wet toothbrush to clean it as usual”. Most tablets contain similar crushing and rinsing instructions.

You can literally chew toothpaste tablets on the go, like peppermints, but I found the effects disappointing and strange. The tablet dissolves in a gush of menthol around the gums and then disappears like chewing minty paracetamol.

The initial “nibble” phase with all three brands I tried was, frankly, quite uncomfortable and vaguely medicinal. Compressed powder tablets do not chew well. Two brands also left some sort of gritty, mineral residue behind (no big deal – a couple of rinses and it rinses away).

The overall experience doesn’t quite match my expectations for the fifth element, but I’m sure toothpaste wasn’t much fun in 1898 either.

If tablets are good for the planet and there is evidence of their ability to prevent tooth decay, I’ll be happy to go tubeless. Next step: roast chicken.

  • This article was modified on February 16, 2021 to clarify that Beat the Microbead is a campaign by the Plastic Soup Foundation. This piece was changed on March 1st to indicate that Denttabs is a German brand that was originally referred to as Danish.

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