Sunday, July 27, 2008

I'm About to Run Out of Toothpaste

Last fall I cracked open a new tube of toothpaste, the last of three 6.5 oz. tubes I bought in bulk at our local not-worth-the-membership-fee warehouse club. (I've since let the membership lapse.) On a whim, I wrote the date on the crimp at the end of the tube. I wanted to see how long it would last me. And it is just me, because I use a different brand of toothpaste than my husband does. That date, in case you can't quite make it out, is 9/17/07. That's more than ten months ago, and there are still a few portions left in the tube.

My toothpaste portions are tiny. And usually I only brush my teeth once a day. Before I get reamed about this, I'll lay out a little personal medical history. In the time since I opened that tube of toothpaste, I've seen the dentist once. At my last cleaning this spring, I finally got some great dental news: my gingivitis was gone! I've struggled with chronic gingivitis for years. I took up daily flossing about five years ago to combat it, but it's been a long struggle. Other than that, my mouth is in great shape. I have all the teeth I was left with after extractions for overcrowding in my teen years, have never had a root canal or crown, and I haven't had a cavity in at least 25 years.

So what gives? I use a small amount of toothpaste only once a day. But I brush my teeth for at least three minutes, and that's after flossing - every single evening without fail. I don't use any mouthwash on a regular basis. I'm no medical authority whatsoever, but I believe this longer brushing routine was what allowed me to clear up the gingivitis problem. This is great because the dentist had suggested that I consider buying a sonic toothbrush if the problem didn't clear up soon. I looked into it and the cheapest I could buy one of those for would have been $100. That would have meant using electricity to run my toothbrush, and more expensive replacement brushes. Still, gingivitis is not a completely trivial problem, and I was seriously considering buying one of those brushes until I got the good news. The best news is that it doesn't cost me anything to brush a little longer, manually.

So what are the frugal angles here? Well, aside from avoiding or at least postponing seriously expensive and painful dental work, and saving on a fancy-dancy toothbrush, I made a tube of toothpaste last the better part of a year. And when it's finished, here's what I'm going to use before I buy any more.

These are all from little courtesy toiletry packets my husband picked up while traveling, and that one Burt's Bees tube is from a sampler pack that I got in my Christmas stocking last year. But there's a point here. I'm writing this silly post on toothpaste to make the case that little things add up. "But it's only toothpaste." you say. "That won't get me out of debt!" Alright, that's true. The savings from using small amounts of toothpaste and little free tubes isn't going to amount to a whole lot.

The larger picture is that I've made a game out of frugality, and this is one little part of that game. I feel rewarded, and sometimes even smug, by these tiny feats of frugality. And psychologically that's very important, because it keeps me going. It helps to pat myself on the back and feel a sense of accomplishment. Maybe it's silly. Maybe all those tubes of toothpaste are only going to save me a dollar. But it works for me. The value of that dollar saved is more than a dollar earned because of the intangible bonus of motivation to continue conserving our financial resources, to continue looking for new ways to save a little bit here and there.

I'm not going to grandstand on appropriate portions sizes for toothpaste. But I am going to encourage everyone who reads this - all six of you - to have faith in the little things. To quote Gandhi on a much more serious subject, "Almost everything you do will seem insignificant, but it is very important that you do it." And my addendum is that it's also important to give yourself a lot of credit for doing it, day after day.


Frugal Babe said...

I started using baking soda to brush my teeth recently. It works great, and I don't have to wonder about all the mystery ingredients in toothpaste anymore. And it's a lot less expensive than toothpaste. I do have one of those fancy electric toothbrushes though :)

Kate said...

Hi, frugal babe! How do you like the taste of baking soda? I have to admit it made me grimace the few times I've tried it. I've been using a certain brand on the advice of my dentist because I have sensitive teeth. But that seems to have diminished, so maybe I don't need to do that anymore. I suppose it's something I ought to at least consider. Do you make a paste out of it, or just put the powder on the wet brush?



BonzoGal said...

I started using less toothpaste when my dentist told me that you actually don't need ANY paste at all- that the brushing was the important part and the toothpaste was just to make it pleasant. (And impart a little fluoride- but I'm allergic to fluoride so I don't use it.) I agree- these little bit add up! Eking out just a bit more toothpaste, shampoo, etc. won't make me rich, but it makes me aware of what I'm spending- or NOT spending.

Carl said...

I've just tried bicarb soda as toothpaste myself, after seeing it recommended by various people. It certainly does taste different to toothpaste, but actually I found it more pleasant, because it didn't leave so much residue in my mouth (and even if it did, I wouldn't care whether I swallowed it).

It also works very well as a deodorant, both personal and for spaces like fridges. I highly recommend trying it; not only is it a big saving, but the chemicals in commercial deodorants are highly questionable (check out

Charley said...

Hi, Kate! I've suffered from a gum disease as well but I got cured with the help of my periodontist (Chattanooga based). I had to follow a rigorous routine like brushing thoroughly for 5 minutes and flossing after every meal. But I am happy it is gone now. Also, I didn't mind driving long hours just to get to Chattanooga. Dental implants are so popular now that I am thinking of having one for my missing tooth.

Anyway, baking soda is indeed a great alternative to toothpaste! It whitens your teeth without using harsh chemicals.

Carl said...

My personal tooth-cleaning strategy is to use a pin as a toothpick. Not something that I can generally recommend, especially because of the risk of injury (pricking, swallowing, etc), but it's the only thing I've found that can remove calculus, except for a scale & clean from the dentist.