December 2nd 2021
Toothpaste tablets: how waterless toothpaste is making brushing sustainable
September 21st 2021 / 0 comment
For reducing plastic waste and serving up 'clean' formulas, toothpaste tablets are ahead of the game. But how do they perform? We put them to the test
How many tubes of toothpaste do you send to landfill every year? The average two-person UK household gets through 24 tubes annually according to eco retailer The Bower Collective, who commissioned a whole-house survey of plastic waste in the UK. Toothpaste tubes are notoriously hard to recycle. According to London dentist Dr Rhona Eskander, a tube of 'mixed materials' plastic toothpaste takes 500 years to biodegrade.
What are the benefits of toothpaste tablets?
Toothpaste tablets or 'tooth tabs' are an easy eco swap to make to reduce bathroom plastic waste. They are designed to be chewed for a couple of seconds and quickly form a 'paste' in your mouth. They come in refillable and recyclable glass jars with aluminium lids or in cardboard cartons.
Being waterless gives them advantages too. They cost less to transport, which reduces their carbon footprint, they don’t add to your airline liquid allowance.
Once consigned to the alternative health shelves, toothpaste tablets such as dentist brand Parla are now being expertly formulated with performance as well as sustainability in mind. Many have all the fluoride cavity protection you expect from a standard gel toothpaste but in a ‘clean’ vegan formula.
Dr Eskander explains that a 'dehydrated toothpaste' does not need as many ingredients to stabilise the formula as a water-based gel does. Anything with substantial amounts of water needs preservatives to maintain shelf life and prevent bacteria from forming. Those we tested were free from harsh ingredients such as SLS (sodium laurel sulphate), whose sole function is to create foam, but which can aggravate sensitive gums and cause dry mouth. They're also free from and titanium dioxide, a mined ingredient found in many toothpastes to make it look white. Tablets are generally palm oil-free too.
Correct dosing is another advantage of a toothpaste tablet. Many of us wastefully overload our brushes with far too much product. A single tablet also ensures you get just the right quantity of active ingredients such as fluoride, not too much and not too little.
Are there any drawbacks to toothpaste tablets?
Depending on the tablet, the taste can get some getting used to although they are improving all the time. When we first tried handbag designer Anya Hindmarch’s favourite toothpaste tablet Brushd a year ago, it tasted so salty (thank you, bicarb) that it was a real struggle to stay the required two to three minutes of brushing time. They have since reformulated for a more pleasant as well as adding a fluoride version. We also tested Lush Dirty Toothy Tabs £6.50, and while we love the brand's commitment to sustainability, we found the sharp cream of tartare taste and the vast amounts of foam a challenge.
Like some tooth tabs, Lush's version, do not contain fluoride. It's a personal choice, but an ingredient that dentists almost universally advocate to prevent tooth decay.
Can children use toothpaste tablets?
Many say they are not suitable for kids or only for older children. This may be due to the possibility of choking, although these tablets are designed to dissolve to a paste almost instantly. Our tester’s teenage children preferred them to gel toothpaste.
Are toothpaste tablets more expensive than normal toothpaste?
The last consideration is price. Brush for brush, tablets are a little more expensive than standard toothpaste but their creators are largely indie brands without economies of scale (yet!). Some cost more because they are in line with a new wave of ingredient-led premium toothpastes, that won’t leave you much change for £20. Parla Pro for example contains vitamins B12 and E and the remineralising ingredient hydroxyapatite, dubbed the 'retinol of tooth care' for its glossing and age-proofing qualities. “Hydroxyapatite forms the building blocks of enamel it helps fight sensitivity and also causes incredible gloss and shine to the teeth. People comment their teeth look whiter and glossier!” says Dr Eskander, one of three dentists behind the brand.
We tested toothpaste tablets for taste, protection, eco credentials and cleaning power.
Good for keeping up the habit
Truthtabs, £10 for three month supply (186 tablets)
The spec: Price per tablet 5.3p, contains fluoride, wild mint flavour, cardboard packet available on subscription, not for children
Plus points: One of the milder minty tablets we tried, these tablets clean with a combination of natural salt, clay, and silica. They are sweetened with sorbitol and are mildly foamy thanks to the gentle cleansing agent sodium lauroyl sarcosinate and have menthol and peppermint oils for a pleasant zing. They are soft and not at all gritty in the mouth, come in a cardboard sleeve with an inner biodegradeable bag and the subscription model means you’ll never accidentally switch to a plastic tube when you suddenly run out. They contain the recommended effective dose of fluoride of 1,450 ppm (parts per million).
Downsides: Their crumbly texture meant that they began to disintegrate in the biodegradable inner sleeve after a few days of having to handle the delicate packaging to fish out a new tablet, leaving us with a pile of bits and dust. We recommended decanting them immediately into a glass jar.
Bottom line: Convenient, clean, but crumbly
Best starter toothpaste tablet
Polished London Toothpaste Tablets, £6.99 for one month (62 tabs)
The spec: price per tablet: 11p. Recyclable cardboard tube, vegan palm oil-free, contains fluoride, for children over 7.
Plus points: This is the mildest tablet we tested – no salty flavours despite the inclusion of bicarb, or extra strong zing and just the right amount of foam - making it a great entry into the world of toothpaste tablets, while you're adjusting to the initial chewing experience. It contains the recommended amount of fluoride and comes from a premium brand specialising in whitening. There is have added silica, for stain removal use a mild SLS-free foaming agent.
Downsides: None that we can think for. For a sustainable alternative to basic fluoride toothpaste that's tasty and affordable, these can't be beaten
Best performance toothpaste tablet
Parla Pro Toothpaste Tabs, £7 for one month supply (62 tabs)
The spec: Price per tablet 17.7p (13p if bought on 4-month subscription), glass jar, dentist-formulated with fluoride, hydroxyapatite and vitamins, children under 7 should be supervised by an adult
Plus points: the three dentists behind Parla have thrown everything at this tasty tablet (apart from the sweetener xylitol, which is known to be tooth beneficial, instead they have used sorbitol) and kept out ingredients such as palm oil and preservatives. It has the recommended dose of fluoride as well as potassium citrate to combat sensitivity, hydroxyapatite to remineralise as well as 50 per cent RDA of immune health vitamins B12 (not that we could taste it) and vitamin E for gum conditioning which can be easily absorbed through the gums. They chewed easily and had a very pleasantly strong breath freshening action and left our teeth noticeably shiny.
Downsides: none really, but be warned they do turn pink on your mouth leaving our tester wondering if they had bleeding gums. Refills also come in glass jars rather than pouches, but as toothpaste tablets are crumbly, this may be so that the product stays intact. They are pricey, however Parla Original, which have stain removing minerals and fluoride, come in considerably cheaper at £7.99 for 62.
The verdict: An investment for those who value premium dental health and a gleaming fresh smile.
Best for budget
Brushd Toothpaste Tablets, £5 for one month (62 tablets). Refill £5.95 for 124
The spec: Price per tablet 8p (4.7p when buying the two-month refill), for adults only, contains fluoride and tooth-friendly xylitol, fluoride-free version available.
Plus points: For value, these tablets can't be beaten, especially when you buy the refill housed in a plastic box. You can throw them in your Boots basket. Designer Anya Hindmarch, creator of the original reusable tote (I am Not a Plastic Bag, remember those?) stocks them in her London Plastic Shop, which features brands making strides to reduce waste. They come in fluoride and fluoride-free versions and are sweetened with tooth-protecting xylitol and organic peppermint oil.
Downsides: The salty taste takes a moment to get used to. Our tester likened them to a sour sweet. The 'Tangfastic' effect is fleeting however and didn't stop us from using them, although they were not the first tablet we reached for.
Verdict: great value, slightly salty.
Best for taking on the go
The spec: Price per tablet 8.3p, Vegan Society-approved, suitable for children over 6, contain fluoride.
Plus points: If toothpaste tablets appeal because of their travel-friendliness, you'll like these. They're sturdier and so a little crunchier than some of the others we tried, so can withstand being bashed about in your hand luggage. They have the dentist-recommended amount of fluoride and are the strongest mint flavoured toothpaste tablets we tried, so top marks for breath freshening.
Downsides: They are very crunchy – it's a bit like eating a mint at first and it takes a while to transform into something resembling normal toothpaste, so they take some getting used to if these are your first foray into toothpaste tablets.
At the pricier end of the spectrum, Parla Pro coming out tops for us, with a stellar ingredient lineup, an easy-to-chew texture and strong breath-freshening power. For everyday eco tooth care that's tasty, we recommend Polished London.
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