How Your Toothbrush Became a Part of the Plastic Crisis | National Geographic

How Your Toothbrush Became a Part of the Plastic Crisis | National Geographic

(tapping) – [Narrator] Hopefully you
know this already but … that’s a toothbrush. So are these. And the one thing they have in common: they’re all plastic. But here’s something you might not know. This routine has been
around for a millennia. And back then, they used chewing sticks. (sticks rattling) Fast forward a bit to 1498, China. They used a bamboo
handle and some hog hair. (snorting) But here’s the thing. One estimate says one billion toothbrushes are ending up here every year in the U.S. And that sounds bad. But we might be able to change that. (upbeat music) (gulls cawing) Now, let’s go meet a dentist. (bouncy piano music) – I’m Dr. Scott Swank, dentist. I’ve been practicing for 30 years. – [Narrator] But Scott
isn’t just any dentist. – I’m currently the curator
at the National Museum of Dentistry in Baltimore, Maryland. This is George Washington’s lower denture. And these are dental
scalers fit for a queen. These were actually
owned by Queen Victoria. This is the Swiss army knife
of tooth extraction devices. Brushing your teeth became
important during the Civil War. Men were being disqualified for service because they didn’t have
two opposing back teeth, and they needed those
in order to tear open paper rifle and musket cartridges. (emphatic drumming) – [Narrator] So, here’s
what that looks like. – [Reenactor] Fire.
(rifle firing) – [Narrator] And that’s pretty hard to do if you don’t have, um … teeth. But here was the problem with that. Toothbrushes hadn’t really
caught on yet in America. By 1924, only about 20% of
Americans brushed their teeth, which is gross. And then the Dupont
Company introduced nylon. to the American public in the late 1930s. And, boom, the very first
nylon bristle toothbrush. Then came World War II. – But most important of
all, clean your teeth often. Clean them well. – [Narrator] And it was
during the war that the Army decided to give every soldier a toothbrush and make it a mandatory
part of their daily routine. And that toothbrush design, it hasn’t really changed since. (staccato electronic music) This is Charlotte Fiell. – F-I-E-L-L, and it’s pronounced Fiell. – [Narrator] She’s a
leading expert on design and has written a lot of books, including this one on
the history of plastics. – It was a fascinating journey, because I didn’t realize what
a incredible history it had. In the future, we have to use
plastics more thoughtfully. When you actually think about them, they’re incredibly noble,
precious materials. There’s no reason why something
that’s made of plastic can’t last a lifetime. (bright electronic music) – [Narrator] The answer:
three to four months, at least according to the ADA. So with 300 million Americans, that’s 1.2 billion toothbrushes being thrown away just in America. That’s enough to warp
around the world four times. Now, let’s look ahead. – If you’re a designer,
you have an absolute duty to design properly, especially, especially if they’re using plastics, because plastics might be cheap materials, but they actually have a very high impact on the environment. They’re very expensive materials when you actually think
of them in a holistic way. – [Narrator] Okay, so
here are some options. We could use alternative materials: bone, metal, recycled
plastic, or bamboo could work. There are toothbrushes
with replaceable heads, and then there’s pig
hair, which biodegrades, but it wouldn’t be an option for vegans and people with certain religious beliefs. Lastly, chewing sticks
created from the neem tree are a totally plastic-free option. But that would be a huge cultural shift. Change takes time. And because we’ve been using
the same toothbrush design for about 70 years, maybe that time is … now. (blissful electronic music)

100 thoughts on “How Your Toothbrush Became a Part of the Plastic Crisis | National Geographic

  1. A billion toothbrushes will be thrown away in the U.S. this year, most of them plastic. How did we get here, and can we change? To learn more, you can read on here:

  2. I love the short documentary where you learn more than spending hours on the internet without a goal thank you national geographic

  3. the drive to recycle plastic and use alternative materials needs to come from government initiatives. whilst it is important for everyone to do what they can to recycle, more needs to be done on a national, international and corporate level

  4. That's why we should use electric toothbrush, it's still plastic but at least it lasts longer therefore it will get replaced much less frequently.

  5. FFS show some realistic alternatives. Like Radius "The Source" toothbrushes where you only replace a small "cartridge" of sorts with just the bristle portion of the brush. Using about 93% less plastic.

  6. That bamboo/stick/neem toothbrush is called Datoon or Datuan in India in hindi (that might have other name in other language and parts of India). This is used by overwhelming number of Indians for thousands of years. It’s in the culture. But due to the influence of western culture, there is shift in the culture. people have shifted to plastic toothbrushes but still a lot of people use that same old traditional method specially in rural India. Indians and the world should go back to those neem toothbrushes as they have medical benefits as well which was among the major reason to be used by the subcontinent population.

  7. Bhosedike kbhi science bolta toothbrush se daat saaf hota ab plastic pollution… science apne stand pr clear nhi hai…ab smaye aa gya hai science ke disadvantage pr चर्चा करने का…

  8. @ Nat Geo. l Like all of your videos. I still have a stack of old magazines that my mom bought over the decades. But, radioactive nuclear waste that's been dropped in the oceans from the 50's to the late 60's is a more deadly problem than plastics that can be recycled. The Oldfucks don't care about the next generation's

  9. There's no way civilizations will go with out plastic. All we have to do is stop producing unnecessary plastics, and make all necessary plastics 100% recyclable. Including toothbrush's.

  10. Yeah, it's the tootbrush…
    And not the fact that we make nearly everything out of plastic. And then wrap it in more plastic to sell it. And then in more plastic to transport it.

  11. Ha! A lot of what he was made to read was not really thoughtful or well explained. The purpose was just a YouTube video. Which is fine.
    -a YouTube comment

  12. Clothes made of polyester should not be worn too..they are made of plastics and are very detrimental to environment.
    Plus, they are also fxxking uncomfortable to wear, we should all go back to cotton clothes

  13. The way I see it, we've been using plastic for 70 years and yet we still haven't figured out how to fully recycle and reuse every single piece we manufacture. Because that seems to be the real problem. If we humans had developed the technology for fully recycling all plastic, it wouldn't have become such a huge problem.

  14. The little sparkly flecks inside some toothpastes are also plastic. Such microplastics can easily become embedded within aquatic organisms and those that feed on them.

  15. I am using neem and it's the important part of our culture . Indian culture is always nature friendly and that's why it's one of the culture which is ahead of time.

  16. هنا تتجلاء حكمة خير البشر محمد صلى الله عليه وسلم

  17. so we gonna farm for toothbrushes? it has also a big impact. the stick seems one-two times use. so 365*333 million sticks for america – what about transporting and space to grow all this sticks!

  18. Powdered neem leaves are easily available in stores .Either brushing by finger or using it with a toothbrush . both help

  19. Back in india .. when we used neem sticks for brushing teeth .. which was way more efficient and bio degradable .. but its all changed now .. changing lifestyle .. consumerism. .

  20. Neem sticks are best. I used to do it when I was kid when I had neem tree at my house. I am going to switch back to it now. It keeps mouth germs free, breath fresh, teeth strong and just one stick can be used as brush and when you tear it in half after brushing( which is very easy) can be used as toung cleaner.

  21. In India, some people still use neem sticks in villages. It's time to think more on our plastic consumption. It's high time!

  22. How quickly we forget that 50 years ago, most of the world didn't brush their teeth and didn't bath with a soap.
    Yet they were fine with their bodies. Now, with the advant of advertising, the companies have convinced us to feel disgust about our own body.

  23. I have an idea let's use air. I am going to design one. check @maybenuts on medium if it's not there come back in a day or two

  24. I think we should think about the packaging material instead because it creates the most plastic waste.

  25. If we move to an alternative material like bamboo – it means we need to grow and cut down more of it! Is that environmentally friendly or sustainable?

  26. Indians are using neem since 5000 years. it is also suggested by many ancient author like Sushrut and others

  27. The title is false. And ignorant. I use an electric toothbrush and replace the brush head every 2 months. Nat Geo needs to get off their high horse. 🖕

  28. Was hoping for more info On alternatives and yo know if the alternatives are just as mouth healthy as the plastic brush

  29. India was using Neem for brushing since thousands of year back.. My uncle is age of 50, still doing neem brushing, my grandmother is of age 80, still doing charcoal brushing by fingers.. they don't have any teeth problems

  30. hey NatGeo – i can find all those brushed you suggest at my local health-food stores but the natural bamboo handle with natural hog-hair bristles. i can only get part-way there, but there will still be a plastic component. PLEASE HELP! post links or something, give us the brand names so we can google them. i refuse to continue to use any plastic eventually destined for the waste-stream in my daily hygiene routine. my toothpaste is now plastic-waste free, my deodorant as well, but my toothbrush is still plastic. :*(

  31. I agree with all the other options except for the bamboo toothbrush. This is because of one reason: Pandas. It’s their main diet and if we keep on using their diet up pretty soon they won’t have a lot of food left and we can possibly cause their extinction. Pandas are already endangered animals so we shouldn’t make that worse by using bamboo.

  32. There are now Tooth brushes made from Bamaboo + Nylon hair.
    Those are great and durable for long enough.

  33. Stellar. I really liked this video. Thanks. I appreciate the alternatives given for toothbrush. You are correct. Change does take time. It would be quite a culture shock for people within the states to change to a bamboo chew stick! Jaja! 😀

  34. feels like a video about nothing. offers no practice alternatives and gives very little trivial information.
    and the toothbrush waste is much lower if you stick to the facts – practically no one changes their toothbrush every 4 month.. maybe MAYBE ones a year.

  35. while we at it.. what about the toothpaste tubes? their life span is even shorter.. the solution is to make your own toothpaste.

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