Written By: Fares Anam
Article Date: Aug 10, 2012 - 11:27:02 PM
Miswak, the natural toothbrush, comes from the Arak, the short evergreen tree that grows in sandy and arid areas of Africa and Middle East, including Yemen. It received big turnouts of Yemeni people during the Holy Month of Ramadan.
The trade of Miswak is recovering and is flourishing during Ramadan due to the high demand for it. Vendors, who sell it, are spreading across the streets of the Yemeni cities and people rush to buy it.
“I just sell Miswak in Ramadan because people like to use it for its medical benefits,” said Sultan Mohammed Ashraf, Miswak vendor in Bab al-Yemen. “I brought these Masawik from Hajjah governorate.” Ashraf said that he digs the ground to grab the Arak tree and cuts it to small pieces in order to sell it to customers.
“In Ramadan, my Masawik trade recovers and sells to large turnout of people who use it to clean their teeth,” he said. “They rushed to buy it because they knew its benefits and they Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) recommend its use.”
The using of Miswak has a religious significance. Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) recommended the miswak to his followers. He used it to sweeten his breath during fasting and advised its use prior to prayer, according to Saudi Aramco World magazine.
Have you ever wondered how people cleaned their teeth before the invention of the toothbrush? One answer is the miswak! The miswak (plural: masawik) is a fibrous stick prepared from the root of the arak tree. It has antiseptic and astringent properties which help clean and protect the teeth and gums. A high-quality miswak has a strong, pungent smell. It is pale yellow or cream in color.
It is moist and flexible. Ali Mohammed, a Miswak dealer, says that he sells a bag of a hundred sticks for YR 2,500 in Ramadan. “It depends on the quality of the arak roots,” he said.
The arak root contains a substance that strengthens the supportive tissue of the gums and helps whiten teeth, said Dr. Marwan Hamoud Thabet, a dentist. “People cannot completely substitute the arak root for the toothbrush because it does not reach all of the crevices that the toothbrush does,” he added. The toothbrush has been designed to suit the tooth structure and reach every position. The beneficial effects of the miswak for oral hygiene and dental health are equal to, if not greater than, those of a toothbrush and toothpaste, according to group of dentists at King Saud University in the Saudi Arabia have conducted studies on the medicinal properties of the miswak, or teeth cleaning sticks, commonly used in Arab and Asian countries.
The research identified a total of 19 natural substances found within the miswak that benefit dental health. It contains a number of natural antiseptics that kill harmful microorganisms in the mouth; tannic acids that protect the gums from disease; and aromatic oils that increase salivation.
Because of its built-in antiseptics, the miswak needs no cleaning, and because its bristles are parallel to the handle rather than perpendicular, it can reach more easily between the teeth, where a conventional toothbrush often misses. According to the study, “the miswak has many medicinal properties and can fight plaque, gum line recession, tooth wear, gingivitis, and periodontal pocket depths.”
The study also concluded that repeated use of one miswak releases fresh sap and silica, a hard glossy mineral that acts as an abrasive material for the removal stains and buildup. “It is also used to prevent smoking in adults and thumb sucking in children,” and “it may also improve the appetite and regulate peristaltic movements of the gastro-intestinal tract,” said the study.
The World Health Organization recommends the use of the miswak in international consensus reports on oral hygiene published in 1986 and in 2000, but stated that further research was needed to document the effects of the miswak.
In a published report for the Yemen Observer, Dr. Rami Bahr, a dentist at Ibn Sina Hospital in Sana’a said that he actually prefers to use the miswak for many reasons.
“First of all, the miswak is an antiseptic for the mouth. It also consists of many materials that protect teeth from bacteria that caused cavities and it moisturizes the mouth and strengthens the gums,” he said.
The arak tree grows in Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Southern Egypt, Chad and Eastern parts of India. In other parts of the Muslim world where the arak tree is not found, other trees are used for the same purpose.
Strips of bark are used in Morocco and branches of the nim tree are often in India. Sabri Abdullah, a public relation employee, said he always cleans his teeth using the miswak after every prayer during Ramadan month.
“It gives me a fresh and good breath,” he said. “I feel better to have clean teeth and healthy gums.”
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