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Lately, I have been thinking about the wasteful use of toothbrushes. I assume that most people replace their toothbrushes every 4-6 weeks. This, of courses, generates a lot of plastic waste.

I guess it is not in the interest of the industry to produce everlasting toothbrushes. However, my question to you, would it be technically possible to produce everlasting (or at least) longer lasting toothbrushes?

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    I dispute your I assume that most people replace their toothbrushes every 4-6 weeks, but it's still a good question ;-) – user2451 Jan 29 '16 at 11:25
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    Dear @JanDoggen, thank you for your comment! I found this source recommending to change a toothbrush every 4-6 weeks. – orschiro Jan 29 '16 at 11:37
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    @orschiro The source qualifies that statement with "If you have gum disease". – DBedrenko Jan 29 '16 at 14:57
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...would it be technically possible to produce everlasting (or at least) longer lasting toothbrushes?

Yes. You can use a wire brush - since it's harder than the teeth it will be used on, it will not wear out.

The teeth, however, will wear out.

The root problem is that the purpose of the toothbrush is to remove material that is softer than your teeth, without removing the hard enamel coating of your teeth. The bristles, thus, have to be softer than tooth enamel, and harder than tooth deposits.

But you end up rubbing this material up against the tooth enamel - which means it will wear down.

Anything harder and longer lasting will have a detrimental effect on the teeth you're trying to protect.

I assume that most people replace their toothbrushes every 4-6 weeks.

The American Dental Association recommends toothbrush replacement every 3-4 months, or 13-17 weeks, which is 3 times longer than your assumption.

Perhaps people can reduce their toothbrush waste by 3 times merely by changing from a 4-6 week schedule to the recommended 13-17 week schedule.

That said, I replace my bristles once a year. They are colored with a dye that changes according to use so I know when to replace them per my use, and that's about a year. Further I use a replaceable head toothbrush, which is about half the volume of materials as a regular toothbrush. These two things - infrequent replacement, and replacing only the head - may make a significant difference if adopted more widely.

This, of courses, generates a lot of plastic waste.

This depends on your definition of "a lot". A single human, even following your excessive replacement schedule, would be throwing away about a quarter of a pound of plastic per year just on toothbrushes. According to one resource, the average human throws away over 300 pounds of plastic a year, so at this extreme usage level this would account for 0.08% of their yearly plastic waste, or, in other words, every day they throw away four times the amount of other plastic that they throw away in toothbrushes per year.

In other words, even if you designed an everlasting brush and make it so affordable and effective that adoption goes up past 90%, you've only reduced total plastic waste by 0.08%.

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  • I love this answer! However, you failed to mention the added bonus of removing ones gums when employing that wire-bristled brush. :) – Kai Maxfield Feb 14 '16 at 22:11
  • @KaiMaxfield true, without gums can't suffer from gum disease. There are a few drawbacks though... – Adam Davis Feb 14 '16 at 22:16
  • Exactly what I was thinking!!! ;^) – Kai Maxfield Feb 14 '16 at 22:22
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From what I've been reading is not possible (at least yet) to produce an everlasting toothbrush due to the wearing of the bristles. But there are a few alternatives available that are more sustainable than conventional plastic toothbrushes.

There are toothbrushes made of biodegradable materials (they promote themselves saying that you can compost it) where you should replace the part with the bristles every once in a while.

There are more alternatives. Not everlasting either, but there are already a few companies (2,3,4) that sell bamboo toothbrushes.

Every one of them is a bit different from each other but all of them have a handle made of bamboo instead of plastic and non-biodegradable bristles. The life expectancy is similar to that of a conventional toothbrush.

P.S. This is the only one I've ever seen advertised as everlasting

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If by everlasting you mean buy once, use it throughout you life and have it buried with you when you die, the answer is no. Everything wears out and the softer something is the more likely it is to wear away more quickly, particularly when it rubs against something that is harder.

The other thing to consider is the affect toothbrushes will have on people's teeth. For good dental hygiene dentists recommend using a soft brush because, over time, hard brushes can wear away dental enamel and hard brushes can cause gum damage, resulting in receding gums, which exposes the roots of teeth, which results in pain.

The best solution is to develop harder wearing soft bristles for tooth brushes.

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I'm a retired dentist, new to this site. All the answers are good. I'm not qualified from an engineering standpoint to comment on this subject but I do have some useful input I think.

Probably the most important thing to remember when brushing is that what you're removing is the soft plaque and it will be easily removed with a soft bristle toothbrush. If the plaque has hardened into tartar then you'll not remove it with any toothbrush in any case. You'll need professional help then. So, light pressure with a soft bristle toothbrush is the key.

By avoiding hard scrubbing pressure your tooth brush will last much, much longer and be better for your teeth and gums!

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