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Brushing Teeth at the Campsite

Summer is coming to a close, which means it’s a perfect time to go camping; the temperatures are dropping, the campgrounds aren’t as busy, and everything’s just a bit quieter.

But going on vacation isn’t an excuse to stop caring for your teeth!

Staying up on your oral hygiene routine can be hard when you’re traveling, and it can be even harder when you’re staying somewhere without power or water. The packaging that most oral hygiene supplies use aren’t biodegradable, either, which can add an extra layer of hassle onto a backpacking trip.

Don’t worry, though; there are options. If you’re looking for easy and environmentally friendly ways to keep your teeth sparkling white when you’re camping, read on. We have everything you need to know about brushing your teeth at the campsite.

Toothpaste Dots

To minimize the weight and volume of your hygiene supplies, you can re-package your toothpaste. Squeeze it out into small dots on a sheet of tinfoil and let it air dry, then pack them in a small bag. This will let you carry only the amount that you need to make it through your trip, without needing to buy an extra travel-sized tube.

When it comes to using toothpaste dots, treat them like gum. Chew one for a bit, add a splash of water to your mouth, then brush. When it comes time to rinse out your mouth, however, opinions differ.

Campers who use fluoride-free toothpaste often advocate swallowing it instead of spitting it on the ground, as spitting it out would introduce a foreign scent into the environment that may attract other animals.

Campers who don’t like the idea of swallowing their toothpaste, be it in general or because of the toothpaste’s fluoride content tend to give one of three recommendations:

  1. Spit it into a bag and pack it out

  2. Spit it onto the ground in one place and bury it.

  3. Spray it out, so no large globs of toothpaste are left where an animal might consume it.

No matter what option you choose, change where you brush your teeth each day, and make sure you choose a location that’s far enough away from your campsite to not attract animals. The goal here is to maintain the consistency of the core habit (brushing your teeth at least once per day), while also choosing convenient options to magnify that core habit’s efficacy, so it’s important that you don’t make things too hard for yourself.

The Toothbrush Itself

When it comes to picking a camping toothbrush, there’s an obvious consideration to make and a not-so-obvious one. You’ll want one that’s light and non-bulky, but you’ll want to pay close attention to how well it dries between uses.

Many travel brushes come with some kind of cap or cover to keep the brush from coming into contact with the rest of your hygiene supplies. This is a great idea in theory, but the practical effect of this is that it slows the drying process significantly. This can lead to high bacteria counts, mold, and bad tastes in relatively short order, even when hiking in dry and cool environments.

Choose a toothbrush that doesn’t have densely placed bristles, don’t use too much water (or paste) when brushing, and give the brush time to dry out before packing it away. If you aren’t willing to give up your toothbrush cover, at least use one that is well ventilated, and don’t put it on right away.

Other Oral Hygiene Supplies

There are a variety of oral hygiene products on the market that target environmentally conscious consumers, but it’s hard to get a sense of what the products actually do. Since many of them haven’t been evaluated by the FDA or the ADA, it can be hard to find verifiable information about them online.

Many products, like biodegradable toothbrushes, still use non-degradable nylon fibers, which can lead to inappropriate disposal cycles. Many flouride-free toothpastes still use compounds that negatively impact river habitability and plant growth, while tooth-cleaning gums and homemade compounds are excessively abrasive. Dr. Halsema may have an opinion on what might work best for your specific situation; universal advice can’t be given on products that haven’t been evaluated.

At the end of the day, maintaining oral health and hygiene is more about mitigating the impact of a break in consistent habits than it is about creating a routine that is as effective as what you do at home. The most important part will always be brushing consistently and avoiding unhealthy foods; the supplies and routines you use at the campsite should help you do that.

As long as you avoid over-using oral hygiene supplies, limit the amount of toothpaste (and other supplies) you leave in the wild, and pick a travel brush that won’t turn green by the second day, you’re in safe territory. If you’re trying to be environmentally friendly, picking a toothpaste that is safe to swallow will probably get you further than choosing a toothbrush that claims to be biodegradable.