Answers from the most unlikely places…

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  Posted by: Dental Design      10th January 2022

The ocean is home to a host of fascinating creatures, from colossal whale sharks to bioluminescent jellyfish. These aquatic beasts can teach humans a lot about life on land, and invite us to ponder on their biological processes and habits. The manta ray is one such creature, which can grow up to a shocking 29 feet, and can live up to 50 years. These elegant creatures are highly intelligent, with the largest brain of all fish species – studies[i] have even demonstrated that they may be able to recognise themselves in a mirror. Unsurprisingly, manta rays are rated vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.[ii]

Manta rays are filter feeders, sifting zooplankton and krill through their gill plates, which function as tiny rakes in their mouths.ii Manta rays are able to capture these microscopic creatures in their mouths and expel seawater through their gill plates. However, the prevalence of microplastics in the ocean is proving devastating to them and other marine wildlife – these substances have been shown to cause blocking in their digestive tracts and disturb digestive behaviour.[iii] Microplastics are commonly accepted to be around 5 millimetres in size, comparable to zooplankton, a vital part of marine ecosystems and the main food source for planktivores.[iv]Due to these digestion issues, these creatures must suffer dietary dilution, starvation and exposure to toxic additives carried in microplastics.v

Wastewater plants are a possible route for microplastics to enter the ocean, with microplastics being identified in sewage samples from a host of countries, including the UK. [v] Wastewater plants often encounter issues with clogging, which cause many problems such as reduced water flow and high maintenance costs. iiiInterestingly, researchers[vi] have turned to manta rays to study their fascinating feeding process and ascertain how they are able to filter and separate plankton from seawater without clogging their gill plates. Even though manta rays cannot filter microplastics, the researchers are hoping to use and develop a similar filtering concept in wastewater management to prevent blockages.

This only further highlights the damaging effects of microplastics on both water systems and oceanic life: in order to reduce their impact, the population must continue to tackle the issue of plastic head-on, and establish ways to reduce its use.

Our impact

It is estimated that in the UK alone, five million tonnes of plastic is used every year,[vii] and by 2025, the ocean could contain 1metric tonne of plastic for every 3 metric tonnes of fish.[viii] Environmental awareness has grown drastically in recent years, with many people turning to greener, more sustainable alternatives. In fact, a quarter of the UK population cite the environment in their top three issues facing the country.[ix] Making eco-conscious swaps is relatively straightforward for many: using reusable water bottles, recycling and choosing to consume products with less packaging are all ways that the average person can contribute to the cause. However, vast industries, such as dentistry, must also do their part in reducing waste and lowering their impact on the environment. Dentistry is a hugely important industry within society, and one that will continue to be a necessary part of peoples’ lives. Thus, tackling dental plastic waste is imperative.

What can dentistry do?

Dental practices issue a lot of plastic waste – this could be as simple as the use of plastic cups, to more complex items, such as single use patient bibs and dental instruments. Dentists may consider making simple, eco-friendly swaps, and reducing their use of single-use items without compromising hygiene or patient care. Dental professionals can recycle paper and general waste, and bulk-buy items to reduce packaging. Disposable instruments could be swapped for autoclavable options, and switching to a greener supplier may also be considered.

Patients can also be made aware of greener ways to practice good oral health hygiene. Bamboo toothbrushes, for example, are more environmentally friendly than traditional toothbrushes,[x] and could be a viable option for cutting down on plastic waste. With 300 million toothpaste tubes going to landfill every year,[xi] dentists could also recommend a more environmentally-conscious toothpaste. Arm & Hammer™ has formulated the UK’s first 100% recyclable toothpaste range, powered by baking soda. The range is clinically proven to improve gum health and remineralise tooth enamel, all the while containing no preservatives or artificial colours. The formula is vegan friendly and boasts of a completely recyclable carton, tube and cap.

Dental professionals are dedicated to providing solutions for a range of oral issues, as well as aiding patients in the maintenance of their dental health. By implementing sustainability into dental practices, as well as recommending alternative oral care products to patients, dentistry’s overall impact on the ocean can be lessened. Microplastics may still dominate ecosystems for years to come, but employing more conscious changes is a step in the right direction.

Annastasia qualified as a Dental Hygienist and Dental Therapist from the University of Sheffield in 2013 and currently practices her full scope of practice with paediatric and adult patients in London. Annastasia has been a professional educator for Waterpik since 2016 and is actively involved with the British Society of Dental Hygiene and Therapists, acting as the trade liaison for their London regional group since 2015. 


For more information about the carefully formulated Arm & Hammer toothpaste range, please visit or email:


Arm & Hammer 100% Natural Baking Soda Toothpaste range can now be purchased from Boots, Amazon and Superdrug, with further stockists following.

[i] Springer Link. Contingency checking and self-directed behaviours in giant manta rays: Do elasmobranchs have self-awareness? Available online. Accessed 13 Oct. 21.

[ii] National Geographic. Manta Rays. Available online. Accessed 13 Oct. 21.

[iii] Springer Link. Detection and removal of microplastics in wastewater: evolution and impact. Available online. Accessed 13 Oct. 21.

[iv] Frontiers in Marine Science. Microplastics on the menu: plastics pollute Indonesian manta ray and whale shark feeding grounds. Available online. Accessed 13 Oct. 21.

[v] Royal Society of Chemistry. Microplastics removal in wastewater treatment plants: a critical review. Available online. Accessed 13 Oct. 21.

[vi] Science Advances. Manta rays feed using ricochet separation. A novel non-clogging filtration mechanism. Available online. Accessed 13 Oct. 21.

[vii] UK Parliament. Plastic waste. Available online. Accessed 13 Oct. 21.

[viii] Plastic Oceans. World Wildlife Foundation. No plastic in nature: assessing plastic ingestion from nature to people. Available online. Accessed 13 Oct. 21

[ix] YouGov. Concern for the environment at record highs. Available online. Accessed 13 Oct. 21.

[x] British Dental Journal. Combining evidence-based healthcare with environmental sustainability: using the toothbrush as a model. Available online. Accessed 13 Oct. 21.

[xi] Business Waste. 300 million toothpaste tubes go to landfill. Available online. Accessed 13 Oct. 21.

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