Are solid toothpastes recommended by dentists?

A toothpaste tablet balanced on a bamboo toothbrush

The short answer is: not by my dentist, no.

I came across solid toothpastes in a shop attempting to reduce waste.  The “toothpaste” comes in tablets in a plastic bottle, which presumably is more recyclable than a toothpaste tube.  Since none of the toothpaste tablets were by a brand I recognised as being approved for their safety and effectiveness, I looked online for any reviews by dental or medical experts.

Google Scholar is my first port of call for scientific articles, and this didn’t return any of the results I was looking for – that is, clinical trials where the solid toothpastes had been tested for proof that they cleaned teeth without damaging them. 

Backing up a step, a simple Google search revealed… more tooth-centric blogs than I would have predicted.  One was written by a dentist in Canada, who reviewed Lush’s Toothy Tabs and commented that their teeth felt clean after using the tabs although they left a little more plaque behind than regular toothpaste.  They also pointed out that the tabs contain no fluoride, which is an ingredient recommended by most dental professionals. On the whole, this writer was a fan of the toothy tabs and recommended their use for travel or for people looking for a fluoride-free option.  However, they advised people check with their dentist before switching to brushing with solid toothpastes alone.

So – with a dental appointment coming up, I resolved to take the extra two minutes to ask my dentist what she thought of solid toothpastes.

Unexpectedly, she hadn’t heard of them.  I showed her a list of ingredients I’d found online from a particular brand, and she picked out two elements – sodium bicarbonate and tartaric acid.

These are often used in home-made toothpastes, she explained, because they combine to create a fizzing sensation which leaves your teeth feeling clean.  Use over time, however, can abrade the surface of your teeth. 

That sounded like a no thank you for me.

Armed with the names of these two ingredients, I went back online to see if either had been trialled for dental care.  Disappointingly, I still came up with almost nothing – the only scientific article I could find which mentioned them was about factory workers suffering tooth decay when working with tartaric acid.  This was hardly relevant as the decay was caused by tartaric acid dust in the air, and I doubted the workers would have been rinsing their mouths with water as one would after brushing.

I did stumble upon this chap, a blogging dentist, who provided a clear list of things to look for or avoid in home-made or alternative toothpastes.  “Anything acidic” is a clear no.  However, he did seem in favour of a few ingredients for DIY toothpastes, like (bizarrely) cacao nibs, or the more traditional baking soda (alkaline not acidic!).  Look out for this as “sodium bicarbonate” in ingredients lists.  Unfortunately for me, he doesn’t link any clinical trials to prove his points, but this seemed hopeful that tooth-friendly recipes are out there somewhere.  He has two DIY recipes on his blog if you’re looking to get stuck in and make your own toothpastes.

So out of the sodium bicarbonate and tartaric acid from the example toothpaste I found, the first ingredient is good but the second is a no-no.

Ultimately, it looked like I would have to accept that these “alternative” toothpastes were just that – essentially home remedies rather than tried-and-tested products I expect.

A bamboo toothbrush with a pea-sized amount of toothpaste, above a plastic toothbrush covered in toothpaste.

Reducing waste from regular toothpaste

What you can do to cut down waste from toothpaste tubes is to make sure you aren’t over-using your toothpaste.  Many people cover the bristles entirely with the stuff, then end up spitting most of it out as it froths up and fills the mouth before they have finished brushing.  Realistically, the “pea-sized amount” you probably were told as a child will do the job, producing enough froth to coat your teeth.  This way you only use the toothpaste you need, and each tube will last longer – fewer to throw in the bin! 

I am lucky enough to live near a school which collects clean toothpaste tubes to recycle, so it is worth investigating to see if any local schemes like Terracycle will take them.  And of course, you can pair your toothpaste with plastic-free dental floss and a bamboo toothbrush to reduce the plastic you are throwing away.  It’s worth trying a few brands of toothbrush to find one that works for you– I like the Environmental Toothbrush for its firm bristles.  Check out sites like ‘Anything But Plastic’ or ‘Ethical Superstore’ for plastic-free goodies.

To summarise – I would not switch to a solid or alternative toothpaste for full-time use, but if I used one for travel I would avoid anything with acids in the ingredients list and perhaps look for sodium bicarbonate in there.   Instead I will try to reduce my toothpaste waste in other ways.  All that said, I am no dentist so I encourage you to do your own research, ask your dentists what they think, and ultimately come to your own opinions. 

A final note – as I wrote this, I was gifted a zero-waste jar of tooth-cleaning paste, so it looks like I will have to experiment with the alternatives after all…