Dental Care Around the World: The Miswak, A Very Special Tooth Brush
What is it?
Miswak is a traditional tooth brush made by beating and exposing the fibers in a small stick of a green branch cut from a tree. These fibers then act as tooth brush bristles, making an axial brush. The stick length is just about the length of a normal tooth brush, quite appropriate for convenient handling. The thickness is determined by convenience, and may range from a half centimeter to about one and a half centimeters. A thicker miswak will, of course, possess more fibers and clean more in a given number of strokes.
While most of the world population has adopted the modern plastic tooth brush, with artificial bristles at the end, the miswak persists in predominantly Muslim areas of the world, especially in rural areas of the Arabian Peninsula, the Horn of Africa, India and Asia. Some people mistakenly believe that the miswak comes only from a Salvadora persica tree. However, it can be made from a branch of any green tree, provided it yields a fibrous end.
A miswak, once cut, can be used for days and weeks. It is recommended that the fibers be washed and dried after every use. Further, the fibers must be cut away after every few days, and about half inch of the remaining length beaten to expose new fibers. In case the fibers become brittle due to drying up, the stem can be conveniently soaked in water to soften them. Certain trees, like Salvadora persica, have the advantage that a miswak cut from them can be used for months, without the fibers becoming too brittle for dental use.
Medicinal Properties and Fragrance
Another advantage of the miswak is the medicinal effect. The Neem tree, so populous in Pakistan and India, has antiseptic properties. Salvadora persica is also reported to possess mildly antiseptic properties. Thus it is perfect for a portable brush. Similarly, the tree Sukchain, also found in India and Pakistan, is said to be actively antiseptic. Miswak cut from most trees will leave the mouth fragrant, and leaves your mouth feeling fresh and clean.
Using with Tooth Paste
While it is possible to use a tooth paste of one’s choice using the miswak as a brush, it is not really needed. Its fibers provide all the necessary cleaning without too much abrasion, and the chemicals in the miswak provide the antiseptic effect and fragrance.
And finally, the miswak is cheap. All civilizations have stressed on planting and growing trees, and all trees need to be trimmed. Miswak sticks are the natural bye-product of tree trimming.
Care must, however, be used to maintain the benefits of using a miswak. The miswak should be dried every time after use, or it should be kept exposed to air. The fiber end must not be allowed to pick up any infection during storage or carrying in a pocket. For this reason, there is a need to develop a proper hygienic miswak holder, which can be carried in a chest or arm pocket like a pen.
- The use of miswak for dental and oral cleaning can be described as unhygienic to the body system. Many people who use this twig carry it with them in their hands or inside their pockets, which is very unhygienic. Carrying the twig throughout the day exposes it to germs that might prove to be costly to your health. Maintaining the cleanliness of the chewing sticks without a proper holder is practically impossible.
- These items are also known to have low antimicrobial activity in comparison to other dental disinfectants. This makes them inferior to the modern toothbrush and toothpaste when it comes to fighting dental and oral infections.
- The miswak can cause periodontal health conditions, like gingivitis and receding gums, when used for a long time. Its surface is rough, and scratches the enamel of the teeth. It is difficult to reach the spaces in between teeth while using these sticks, a major factor that makes the use of these items for dental cleaning inferior to the use of toothbrushes. These twigs can also cause bleeding of the gums when used roughly upon them.
- By reaching the facial surfaces of the teeth more easily than the lingual surfaces or the inter-dental spaces, some surfaces of the whole dentition system are not reached. This leaves your dental and oral systems half-clean, and can easily lead you to contracting serious infections.
A Natural Alternative
Though most people that are aware of the miswak assume its inferiority, more and more people turning to natural products are considering its use. Many online retailers have catered to this demand, offering “chewing sticks” to consumers. If you choose to explore this type of dental care, keep in mind that you will still need to floss to reach those difficult places between teeth and below the gum line. Also, be sure to discuss it with your dentist and allow him or her to help you keep your oral health on track.