I panicked a little at the grocery store over the weekend when my usual brand of toothpaste, Dr. Ken's, was missing from its usual spot on the shelves. I'd loaded up on it a while back during a sale and have no idea of when they ran out or of whether they've stopped stocking it. Not too long ago, the grocery store in question had gone several months without carrying the organic variety of Vegenaise I love and then recently resumed carrying it without explanation -- asking the staff about it had proved useless. Basically, there's no telling when or why a favourite item will vanish, so I try to stock up on non-perishable favourites when I can -- particularly when they go on sale. Dr. Ken's toothpaste became my "usual" brand because on top of being vegan, its taste isn't overwhelming and it's generally one of the more inexpensive of the brands carried by local stores. So with a little less than a half-tube of it left to go and refusing to shell out additional money to taste-test a different brand, I found myself with enough time to turn to Google to locate information to try to make my own.
Aside from containing animal ingredients and of having possibly been tested on nonhuman animals, commercial toothpaste often contains artificial sweeteners and flavours, as well as chemical preservatives. Much has also been written over the past couple of decades about the hazards of fluoride, whether added to toothpaste or to drinking water (please note that I haven't read enough about this issue to weigh in one way or another, myself). Considering that brushing your teeth is something you (ideally) do at least a couple of times a day, aren't you concerned about what it is that you're putting on your toothbrush and into your mouth?
A while back, I'd spent the better part of a year as an impoverished college student brushing my teeth with plain old baking soda. I would just sprinkle some baking soda on a small plate, wet my toothbrush, dip it in and then brush. Mildly abrasive, baking soda helps scrub plaque and stains off your teeth, leaving you with whiter looking teeth and fresher breath. It also raises the pH level in your mouth, which in turn combats the enamel-destroying acid created by the bacteria in your mouth. Concerns have been raised over baking soda being too abrasive to use regularly without wearing down tooth enamel, although this mostly becomes a problem if you brush too hard to begin with or use too firm a toothbrush. That being said, my dentist once told me that far too much gum damage is actually caused quite specifically by people brushing their teeth too hard -- something to keep in mind whether or not you use baking soda.
There are recipes for homemade toothpaste or tooth cleaner all over the internet. Seriously. They're common on a variety of blogs and websites because they appeal to the environmentally responsible (think of the packaging saved by making your own), to the thrifty and to the health-conscious. As it turns out, making your own toothpaste is so simple that it would also make sense that it catch the attention of penny-pinching, environmentally conscious, superfluous chemical avoiding vegans. The most common one you'll find is a variation on a combination of the aforementioned baking soda (with or without hydrogen peroxide), vegetable glycerin (for smoothness) and some sort of essential oil or extract such as peppermint or cinnamon for an all-natural fresh taste. Here's one example on the Instructables site. Here's another on the Vegan Epicurean blog. As an alternative to glycerin, some recipes use coconut oil. Find a recipe, try it yourself, then tweak it.
Let's face it: Sometimes vegan personal care products can be a bit pricey. This is one example, however, of how easy it is to make a cheap alternative of your own. A few years ago, I'd weighed the idea of integrating more do-it-yourself, vegan-friendly, frugal and sustainability-focused posts into the blog. Maybe this is a good time to revisit that idea. Please feel free to comment below if you have suggestions for future posts. Are there any items for which you'd like to find DIY alternatives to tackle at home?
Related post: DIY: Animal-Free Shampoo