Written By Kevin Kerfoot / Reviewed By Ray Spotts
Researchers at Trinity College Dublin recently examined the sustainability of different models of the most commonly used oral health product - the toothbrush - to ascertain which is best for the planet and associated human health. The study - published in the British Dental Journal - represents the first time a life-cycle assessment (LCA) was used to measure environmental consequences of a healthcare product.
Researchers in collaboration with Eastman Dental Institute at University College London considered different manufacturing models of the toothbrush and measured the environmental impact - or carbon footprint - and human health impact – the Disability-Adjusted Life Years (DALYS) of the toothbrush. The electric toothbrush, the standard plastic brush, the plastic brush with replaceable head, and the bamboo brush were used. The team found that the electric toothbrush was comparatively harmful for planetary health.
The team found that the most environmentally sustainable toothbrush was not bamboo, as could perhaps be popularly believed, but a hypothetical continually recycled plastic toothbrush. The comparison study showed that a plastic manual replaceable head toothbrush and bamboo manual toothbrush perform better than traditional plastic manual and electric toothbrushes in every environmental impact outcome measure used in this study.
These results could be used to inform individual consumer choice, oral health recommendations, procurement of toothbrushes for public health programs, and toothbrush manufacturers. Using LCA to inform healthcare policies and recommendations will help healthcare providers move towards a more environmentally-sustainable system.
Electric Toothbrushes Vs. Bamboo And Plastic
"There are billions of toothbrushes used and discarded every year,” says Dr. Brett Duane, Associate Professor in Public Dental Health at Trinity College and lead researcher. “Our research shows that electric toothbrushes are actually harmful for the planet and to the people involved in the manufacturing process and distribution.”
“There is not a lot of evidence to show they are more effective unless you struggle to clean your teeth with a normal toothbrush,” Duane continued. “We have also shown bamboo toothbrushes are not the answer. Using them just stops land from being put to better use such as helping biodiversity, or in growing forests to offset carbon emissions. The ideal toothbrush is one which uses plastic which is recycled in a continuous process.”
“Plastic brushes which can be recycled don't take up a lot of land and they don't need lots of water to grow,” Duane concluded.
“The important thing here is to keep the plastic in the recycling chain. We need a system where plastic toothbrushes can be collected like batteries and then recycled into new products. If the plastic escapes the recycling chain, it needs to be able to be easily and naturally broken down into harmless products.”
“Manufacturers, consumers, health professionals, and health policy makers should consider environmental sustainability as well as money and people's health when recommending products. Governments and industry should consider how they could support recycling programs. More funding is also required to support sustainability research in this area."
The findings also highlight the human health burden of the toothbrush manufacturing process. The electric toothbrush causes 10 hours of disability measured in DALYS mainly for the people associated with the process of making and producing the devices. This is five times higher than a normal plastic brush.
Online counseling motivates brushing and flossing
“Brush your teeth twice per day and floss regularly” are habits most people know of, but despite the pleas of dentists nationwide, few follow through on this advice. Dentists are now considering motivational interviewing - a new approach to improve oral health practices among the public.
University at Buffalo researchers received a grant - funded by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research in the National Institutes of Health - to develop the first online intervention based on motivational interviewing to help dental patients improve oral health behaviors, including frequent brushing and flossing, and slow risk behaviors that negatively affect oral health, such as tobacco and alcohol use.
“Books, demonstrations, discussions – none of it is working,” says Sebastian Ciancio, DDS, SUNY Distinguished Service Professor in the UB School of Dental Medicine and director of the UB Center for Dental Studies. “Dentists are always trying to motivate people to brush and floss properly, yet half of the U.S. population has some form of gingivitis.”
“Creating an effective online program based on motivational interviewing will make it possible to achieve large-scale improvements in oral health at a relatively low cost,” added Kurt Dermen, Ph.D., senior research scientist in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB.
Dental practices and online intervention
Motivational interviewing is a collaborative, goal-oriented counseling style that promotes behavior change by helping patients resolve doubt and indecision. Rather than give direction, the counselor guides patients to identify their own reasons and plans for change.
Previously investigators tested the ability of motivational interviewing to improve brushing and flossing habits in dental patients who suffered from alcohol abuse. The project’s success led to the development of an intervention training manual for dental professionals. Because dental practices are limited in the amount of time they can spend counseling patients, the new study will modify the training manual into an online intervention that can be easily delivered to patients.
Researchers are currently conducting focus group interviews with 32 dentists and hygienists and 32 dental patients to guide development of the program. Various iterations of the online intervention will be tested with small sets of patients. The final version of the intervention will be tested with 24 UB dental patients.
Patients will report their perceptions of the program’s ability to engage and motivate changes in behavior. Future research will test the program’s effectiveness and its utility with other populations at risk for oral disease, such as patients diagnosed with HIV or diabetes.
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With over 30 years of writing and editing experience for newspapers, magazines and corporate communications, Kevin Kerfoot writes about natural health, nutrition, skincare and oral hygiene for Trusted Health Products’ natural health blog and newsletters.
Founder Ray Spotts has a passion for all things natural and has made a life study of nature as it relates to health and well-being. Ray became a forerunner bringing products to market that are extraordinarily effective and free from potentially harmful chemicals and additives. For this reason Ray formed Trusted Health Products, a company you can trust for clean, effective, and healthy products. Ray is an organic gardener, likes fishing, hiking, and teaching and mentoring people to start new businesses. You can get his book for free, “How To Succeed In Business Based On God’s Word,” at www.rayspotts.com.