Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Leave No Trace Quiz: What is your strategy for keeping your pearly whites clean in the backcountry?

By Sarah Gruen, Recreation Resources Intern

My dentist has trained me in the importance of good dental hygiene; rarely a day goes by where I do not thoroughly brush my teeth twice a day and floss. While out in the backcountry I embrace most changes to my daily routine, but that doesn’t mean I want to give plaque a chance to build up. Besides, after a long day of building up a layer of sweat and dirt on my body and a layer of sugary trail mix on my teeth, a good brush makes me feel infinitely cleaner.

What is the recommended best practice for brushing your teeth in the backcountry?

Leave No Trace experts agree that the key to brushing your teeth in the wilderness is all in the spray. After a thorough brushing, swish some water in your mouth and spray, spew and spit the toothpaste over as large an area as possible. The most effective strategy is to mimic the rotating motion of a water sprinkler. This practice is encouraged because it diffuses the toothpaste over a large area, rather than depositing a wad of toothpaste and in a localized area. The biggest concern with wads of toothpaste is that it may attract animals to a campsite.

If spraying your toothpaste รก la a water sprinkler doesn’t seem like something you want to do, there are other options. When deciding what method you want to use, it is most important consider the impact it will have on wildlife.

  • A popular method is to brush sans toothpaste. Studies suggest that rather than the ingredients in the toothpaste it is actually the brushing motion that is key to removing plaque.
  • Or, if you like the foamy feeling of toothpaste, go ahead and wash your mouth out with soap. Low-impact backpackers have reported using baking soda, or a mixture of baking soda and salt to scrub their teeth and then they swallow the mixture.
  • Some people recommend using commercial options such as Oral-B Brush-ups, a textured wipe that slides over your finger. If you go this route, remember the maxim, “pack it in, pack it out”

Experiment with these different methods and find out what is the best option for you, your pearly whites and the environment. With Leave No Trace there is often not one clear answer so use your best judgment to determine how to act. The low-impact camper has many decisions to make (campsite location, whether or not to build a fire) and in the grand scheme of things choosing how to brush your teeth is not the most important, but it is always useful to think about your footprint.

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