The miswak, otherwise known as siwak or toothstick in some regions, is an alternative oral hygiene tool. Most commonly taken from the roots of Salvadora Persica tree, or Arak, miswak is a wooden stick of which one end is peeled off, creating a brush-like structure. It is used in a similar way to the modern toothbrush. The use of miswak is still widespread within the Middle East and Africa, where miswak plays a significant role in culture and religion.
Benefits of Miswak
How can you use a piece of wood to clean your teeth? Well, you might be pleasantly surprised to discover that a miswak stick contains essential oils and properties that are beneficial for your teeth and health!
- Calcium and fluoride, which have antibacterial properties and help to re-mineralize and strengthen the teeth.
- Silica, which effectively removes stains and deposits on the teeth and has a natural bleaching effect.
- Sodium and alkaloids which display mild germicidal and anti-bacterial properties.
- Essential oils, which have anti-septic effects and keep the pH level of the mouth optimum, thus making it difficult for bacteria that causes bad breath to grow.
- Natural resins and vitamin C, which have been proven to strengthen and repair the gums.
- Natural organic fiber, which can reach the deepest surfaces of the teeth, giving optimal cleanliness and reducing abrasion.
Unlike the toothbrush and toothpaste we use in modern society, all the minerals found in miswak are natural. What’s more, the results it gives are as good as the toothbrush we currently use.
Miswak: Culture and Religion
Miswak is particularly special during the Holy Month of Ramadan—a month celebrated by Muslims all around the world. During this month, Muslims will fast by not drinking or eat anything from sunrise until sunset. Even a drop of water can break a fast, hence the act of teeth-brushing, according to some, may not be suitable during this time. However, as the application of miswak does not require the use of water, many would find it a useful tool to use in maintaining oral hygiene while fasting.
Miswak is highly prominent in Islam, a religion which strongly advocates cleanliness. In fact, the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) had said that he was told to use the Miswak so much that he was afraid that it might become an obligation and if he thought it would not trouble his people so much, he would have ordered them to use the miswak with every ablution.
Miswak is widely available in many different regions all over the world. Contrary to popular belief, a miswak stick does not necessarily have to be extracted from the Arak tree. In regions where the Arak tree is difficult to find, miswak can be extracted from trees with similar properties. In South-Asian regions, such as India, miswak is commonly extracted from Neem trees. In Pakistan and Afghanistan, the olive tree is the chosen option. These trees carry benefits similar to those of the Arak tree.
With modernization, the use of miswak has become less widespread. However, recent studies have shown that the effectiveness of miswak on dental health may be even better than using a toothbrush. With this exciting research comes the rise of movements to popularize the use of miswak.
The miswak is a practicle and important tool for oral health care. You can take it anywhere with you and use it after a meal or while sitting in traffic.
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Dr Nizar Kharma’s Expert Opinion
Over the last few decades, the use of miswak has been one of the most controversial dental topics in the Middle East and the Islamic world.
Supporters of the miswak highlight its benefits in preventing and reducing plaque and dental decay, as well as improving gum health. Some studies show that miswak has antibacterial and antiplaque effects, but their small sample size reduces their credibility. Moreover, some of these studies show a statistically significant reduction in the bacteria responsible for decay and gum disease compared to tooth brushing, but not other types of bacteria. Interestingly, many of the studies do not explain whether the participants also brushed their teeth with toothpaste and used mouthwash, which could contribute to reduced caries and gum disease. What’s more, no miswak studies so far have focused on the long term effect of using only miswak, for at least 10 years, compared to using a toothbrush and mouthwash.
Miswak sceptics claim that using it not only has no beneficial effects, but can also potentially wear and damage the enamel, the outer tooth layer. Long term, this could expose the nerve, as well as damage the tooth structure. No studies, however, have produced such evidence.
To conclude, the limited number of miswak studies and the small sample size means that so far there is a lack of scientific evidence supporting the exclusive use of miswak without tooth-brushing and mouth-washing.
It is therefore safe to use the 2000 International Consensus Report on Oral Hygiene, which concluded that further research is needed to support the full time use of miswak. Meanwhile, miswak users are better off combining the use of miswak with regular tooth-brushing and mouth-washing for ultimate oral health results.