Miswak, the natural toothbrush [Archives:2006/910/Health]

January 9 2006

Najwa Al-Harithi
The Miswak, scientific name Salvadora persica, is a natural tool for cleaning teeth used in many Arab and Islamic countries. It is widespread in southern Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Sudan, Egypt and elsewhere. The Miswak also is obtained from other trees. For example, in Africa, it is cut from lime and orange trees, whereas in America, some are cut from the Senna tree, taken from roots and branches of particular desert trees. It differs from one region to another, but in Arabia and Asia, Miswak comes from the Arak tree.

Salvadora persica is a small upright evergreen tree or shrub, seldom more than one foot in diameter and reaching a maximum height of three meters. Its leaves are small, oval, thick and succulent with a strong smell of cress or mustard.

Miswak's natural toothpaste is made up of a number of substances that play an important role in cleaning teeth. Many researchers have studied this element in depth and proven that the Miswak contains more than 10 different natural chemical compounds considered essential for good oral and dental hygiene. These are: fluoride, silica, tannic acid, resins, alkaloids (salvadorine), volatile oils (sinigrin), sulfur, vitamin C, sodium bicarbonate, chlorides, calcium, benzylisothiocyanate (BIT) and others, including salicylic acid, sterols, trimethylamine, saponins and flavenoid.

Some of these components are stain removers and teeth whiteners, some protect teeth against cavities, some are bactericidal and antiseptic, some help in healing and repairing tissue, some promote remineralization (building) of tooth enamel and some give the taste and smell.

Physically, the Miswak is a natural toothbrush composed of a compact group of minute natural fibers performing exactly the same job as a normal toothbrush, except it is made of natural fibers and not plastic ones. For this reason, it is gentler on gums.

Cytotoxic (cell damaging) test results showed no cytotoxic effects from using freshly-cut Miswak. However, the same plant used 24 hours after cutting did contain harmful components. Based on these findings, researchers recommend cutting the day's used portion of the Miswak and preparing a fresh part.

Comparing it with the conventional toothbrush, a clinical trial on Ethiopian schoolchildren found the Miswak to be as effective as the toothbrush in removing oral deposits. The study also found instruction and supervision to be important, since children in the sample were not familiar with Miswak techniques.

Common mistakes in Miswak use: some people may misuse the Miswak and that leads to not get the whole benefits from it. For example many people use the Miswak whose end is either too thin or too thick, or they don't cut end every day. Other may Keep it in the mouth while doing other things, forgetting that teeth have five faces (inner, outer, two sides and biting/chewing faces) and only cleaning the outer faces.

The Miswak was known before Islam, but Islam added a religious aspect to using it. The prophet (peace be upon him) recommended Muslims clean their teeth using a Miswak daily, especially when waking up, performing ablution, before prayer, reciting the Qur'an, before sleeping and when the mouth smells bad. Many of the prophet's teachings speak about it. It is narrated that the prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Ten things are natural [for one to do]: Trimming the moustache