Sports, Health & Lifestyle
Written By: Thuria Ghaleb & Eman al-Jarady
Article Date: Oct 2, 2007 - 3:38:15 AM
A Yemeni man using the miswak to clean his teeth.
A group of dentists at King Saud University in the Saudi Arabia have studied the medicinal properties of the miswak, or teeth cleaning sticks, commonly used in Arab and Asian countries, and have concluded that 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.
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.
The study was led by Dr. Khalid al-Mas, an assistant professor in the Division of Periodontics in the Department of Preventive Dental Sciences at the King Saud University College of Dentistry in Riyadh. The study explains that the miswak also has other benefits. It releases a substance that soothes toothaches. “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.
“I actually prefer to use the miswak for many reasons. First of all, the miswak is an antiseptic for the mouth,” said Dr. Rami Bahr, a dentist at Ibn Sina Hospital in Sana’a. “It also consists of many materials that protect teeth from bacteria that caused cavities and it moisturizes the mouth and strengthens the gums.”
One of the many miswak sellers on the streets of Sana’a during Ramadan.
Dr. Hani Saeed, a dentist and a professor at Dhamar University, believes the miswak has benefits, but can be over used. “I am against the daily use of the miswak because it can grind down the enamel of teeth,” he said. “If it is used no more than once per week, the stick is fine, but I discourage people from using it any more than that.”
“Using toothpaste and a toothbrush is more effective than the miswak,” said Dr. Saeed. “The brush can reach every where in the mouth and kill bacteria between the teeth.”
“I always clean my teeth using the miswak after every prayer during Ramadan month. It gives me a fresh and good breath, and I feel better to have clean teeth and healthy gums,” said Malika Farah, 22, student at Sana’a University.
The best source of the miswak is the root of the arak tree (Salvadora persica), more commonly known as the ‘toothbrush tree’. 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.
“There are two kinds of miswak sold in Yemen, spicy and bland ones. I think that the spicy kind of miswak is better than the other one because it makes some heat in the mouth during brushing and cleans them in a better way,” said miswak seller, Isam Mohammed.
Many Muslims use the miswak on the recommendation of the Prophet Mohammed, who said, “Siwak cleanses the mouth and pleases the Lord”, and “if I had not found it hard for my followers or the people, I would have ordered them to clean their teeth with siwak for every prayer.”
“I use the miswak during Ramadan more than during other months of year because I heard an advisory opinion warning Muslims not to use toothpaste during fasting since it nullifies fasting,” said Sana’a University student, Umm Anas, 23. “I also use this stick to clean my teeth during Ramadan because I like to do what our Prophet used to do during his life,” she said.
By contrast with the conventional plastic toothbrush, the miswak can be used any time, anywhere. It completely eliminates the need for toothpaste squeezing, vigorous brushing, foaming at the mouth or spitting.
People in Yemen have various reasons for using the miswak during Ramadan. “Using the miswak spreads among the people during Ramadan because you can find a lot of street vendors everywhere selling them in the souqs or in the front of mosques,” said Faniah al-Wessabi, 23, a student at Sana’a University. “I heard an advisory opinion which said that the taste and smell of the toothpaste may nullify fasting.”
“Many people use the miswak to imitate others. Other people consider it an entertainment to spend the hours waiting for the fast breaking,” said Fuad al-Serwani, a student.
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