Teeth and mouth

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Most people are concerned about keeping their teeth healthy and clean. Yet we get our toothpastes, toothbrushes and mouthwash from the supermarket or chemist, and it is hardly controversial to say that these are not sustainable methods of doing so. In cleaning our teeth today, we pollute our rivers, air and land. The good news is that there are moneyless, localised solutions available. Whether or not you’ll actually want to use them is a different question, but the options below are the types you’ll use if you want absolutely sustainable forms of mouth hygiene. With all of these, take further advice about whether they are suitable for you from an expert if you are concerned. You may come up with your own solutions the more you explore it.


I’ve used a mixture of ground up wild fennel seeds and ground out cuttlefish bone (acting as the abrasive) as a toothpaste. The latter you can find on beaches, so if you don’t live near one stock up on it the next time you go to the coast. Do check for sewage outfall first before gathering it. You can also grow fennel in your garden if foraging it is out of the question.

Such is the success of monetary economics that none of us can now imagine how we brushed our teeth before it paved the way for industrialisation. But for those of you who don’t want to wash your mouth with fish bone, there are other moneyless options. Counter-intuitively, crushed charcoal has also been used as a toothpaste in the past but the idea of using this has, admittedly, never appealed to me thus far in my own experiment. Similarly, aubergine ash mixed in equal parts with salt has also been used regularly.


Thomas McGuire, dentist and author of The Tooth Trip(191) gave me a number of excellent suggestions for your toothbrush. He recommends using either marshmallow roots or alfalfa roots, two plants with “good bristles”. To make alfalfa root toothbrushes, gather alfalfa roots that have a thick diameter. Strip down the outer layer, and let them dry out as slowly as you can at normal room temperature. Once fully dry, slice them into 3-5in lengths, before whacking both ends with a hammer to loosen the fibres. Fold the roots in half so that all ends are now facing the same way. Voilà, your own toothbrush. Soak in warm water before brushing. Depending on where you live, other plants may be more appropriate for your toothbrush, including liquorice root, eucalyptus, bay, neem, fir and juniper.


Kirsten Anderberg, in her book Oral Health, Naturally,(192) suggests making a rosemary and mint mouthwash. Boil 2.5 cups of water, then take it off the heat and add 1 tablespoon of fresh mint leaves, 1 tablespoon of rosemary leaves, and another of anise seeds if you can get your hands on them. Let the herbs sit in the water for at least 20 minutes. Once it has cooled, strain it using muslin and bottle. You can make herbal mouthwashes from rosemary, thyme and lavender – just make a tea out of it and then rinse as normal.