Maintaining dental hygiene is just as important when backpacking and camping as it is at home. But the question arises, what’s the best way to practice leave no trace toothbrushing and rinse out the toothpaste in your mouth after your brush? My answer may surprise you.
While many leave no trace practitioners advocate “broadcasting” your tooth-brushing wastewater by spraying it into the woods by blowing it out your mouth to disperse it, or burying it in a cathole, I’ve found the easiest and simplest method is simply to swallow it.
At home, many of us squeeze a glob of toothpaste onto our toothbrush which generates a lot of foam and requires several rinses to clear out of your mouth. But you don’t need to use that much toothpaste and a tiny dab applied to a dry toothbrush will do the trick just as well, stimulating your gums and freshening your breath. There’s also no need to rinse out your mouth after using such a small amount of toothpaste or tooth powder and you can just swallow the residue without ill effect.
If the thought of swallowing fluoride toothpaste, even in very small quantities, doesn’t appeal to you, then try baking soda, which also makes an excellent toothpaste (in powder form), and can be easily digested.
The Numbers Game
Is it really worth sweating over a tiny detail like Leave No Trace tooth brushing on a backpacking or camping trip? It is if you hike in an area that receives heavy use like the Appalachian Trail and many of our National Forests and Parks. While the actions of one person at a shelter or campsite might have little impact on the local wildlife, when you multiply the impact of toothbrushing a thousandfold in a small area, the amount of soapy wastewater spit out by visitors really adds up.
But practicing leave no trace toothbrushing is a choice. Leave No Trace isn’t a set of RULES that you must adhere to, but a set of guidelines that you can choose to follow or not. The choice is up to you.