Since starting Solid, I’ve enjoyed a never-ending supply of floss. One of the perks of running an oral care business 😉
Anyhow, a while ago I went away on holiday and forgot to pack floss. And I can’t handle going more than a day without flossing – that dental hygienist training is strong. So, I bought a different brand’s eco floss to get me through the trip. This floss was great! It removed plaque really well. It was strong. It glided through my teeth spaces like butter. I immediately made mental plans to add this type of floss to our range.
Sadly, this magical floss turned out to be not quite what it seemed…
Let’s begin with questioning if flossing is really necessary. Most dental professionals agree that interdental cleaning – a fancy way of saying cleaning between your teeth – is really, really important. Flossing is the most common way to clean those interdental spaces.
Our friends at the NZ Ministry of Health agree: “Brushing and flossing are the two most important ways of removing plaque.”
When I worked as a dental hygienist, I saw first hand the improvement in gum health once people started flossing regularly. As well as the devastation that periodontitis causes. Periodontitis is basically when plaque bacteria start to break down the bone that holds your teeth in place.
Ok, I’m done now, the purpose of this blog is to figure out what those eco floss options are actually made of, not to make you feel guilty about flossing!
Let’s look at your typical pack of floss. It’s pretty plastic fantastic. First you have your polyester or nylon string/tape, sometimes waxed, sometimes with a PTFE (Teflon) coating. This plastic string is then wrapped round a plastic spool. This is inside a plastic box. Which is inside a plastic blister pack. All of which are single use and hard to recycle.
Nowadays, we are seeing more sustainable flosses pop up. The major benefit of these flosses is that is that they come in a refillable dispenser – most commonly glass. At Solid, we went with stainless steel to improve longevity. This choice was confirmed for us when I saw my then-toddler chewing on our glass dispenser sample (eeek!).
At Solid we sell our dispenser unboxed, and other brands use cardboard boxes.
There’s a lot of scope to design out the plastic waste surrounding dental floss, which is awesome!
But what about the actual floss string?
In Aotearoa, there are three types of eco floss available. Silk, PLA, and Bamboo Charcoal
- Silk floss: Silk is a natural fiber. Like silk clothing, 100% silk floss is truly biodegradable, and can be composted. However, it’s not vegan or cruelty free.
- PLA floss: PLA (polylactic acid) is a bioplastic derived from corn rather than petroleum. The majority of single use “eco” bottles and cups are made from PLA. It’s a somewhat controversial material. It can be commercially composted – but that’s not very relevant in New Zealand as we don’t have the necessary facilities. Thin PLA items like bags, films – or floss – may also break down in a home compost with sufficient heat, time, and moisture. The negative of PLA? It’s not as strong as plastic floss, and is more likely to snap or shred in tight spaces. This means it doesn’t work for all teeth, or all people.
- Bamboo Charcoal Floss: Did you guess that this was the floss I bought on holiday? Once I started researching it further, I discovered that bamboo charcoal floss is not made of bamboo fibers like I had imagined. It’s actually 96-99% polyester, infused with a small amount of bamboo charcoal powder. And yes, polyester = plastic.
The box advertised this floss as being biodegradable and home compostable, but I really don’t see how this is possible.
Bamboo Charcoal floss is good floss, but it’s NOT compostable.
This realisation was really disappointing to me, but also not surprising. It’s so hard these days to avoid plastic!
Ok, at this point we’ve established that the perfect vegan “eco” floss doesn’t exist (yet!). So, if you’re looking to avoid sending plastic string to landfill what should you do?
- Always look to be a good kaitiaki, but put your oral health first.
- If PLA floss works well for your teeth, and you’re happy to pop a small amount in your compost – great!
- If your teeth are a bit more complex and you need a stronger, more durable floss? Use bamboo charcoal floss in a refillable dispenser, and dispose of it correctly.
Progress, not perfection, right?!