The benefits of miswak, the tooth-cleaning stick

We’re always on the lookout for great natural health boosters. And Miswak is one of those rare finds – not only that it has a long and fascinating history of use, but its benefits have attracted the attention of both natural healers and practitioners of conventional medicine alike. It’s one of those unlikely products that somehow made its way into our lives and it is here to stay.

“Miswak” is a generic term basically meaning a tooth-cleaning stick. The fibers at the end of the stick get separated, creating a natural toothbrush that is used to clean the teeth, usually without any toothpaste or water. Most of the times, miswaks are made from the roots, twigs and even the bark of the Salvadora persica plant – a small tree or shrub, relatively thin and which can grow up to 3 meters in height -, also known as the Miswak tree or the Toothbrush tree.

Miswaks are highly popular in India, Pakistan, parts of Africa and most of the Arabian countries. Muslims are actually taught that they should clean their teeth with miswak before prayer, but also before travelling, before entering someone’s home, when they wake up and before going to sleep, and so on. The habit of using miswak for teeth-cleaning has also spread in the West, and even the World Health Organization has encouraged the use of miswak for oral hygiene, recognizing its benefits for strengthening gums, preventing and treating tooth decay and freshening the breath.

Here are some of the most important benefits of miswak for teeth care:

  • It has abrasive, antiseptic, astringent and antibacterian action;
  • It strengthens the gums and prevents and treats gum disease;
  • Prevents cavities;
  • Calms toothaches;
  • Kills a wide range or cariogenic bacteria;
  • Slows down tooth decay;
  • Naturally treats halitosis (bad breath);
  • Leaves behind a pleasant taste and smell;
  • Cleans teeth buildup;
  • Improves taste buds sensitivity;
  • Prevents tartar buildup;
  • Contains calcium and fluoride ions that remineralize and strengthen teeth;
  • Contains antiseptic essential oils;
  • The resins in its composition form a protective layer on the enamel;
  • Contains abrasive substances that clean the teeth and remove stains;
  • Prevents periodontitis;
  • One study compared the periodontal status of habitual miswak and toothbrush users and the results showed that the periodontal status of miswak users was better than that of toothbrush users, “suggesting that the efficacy of miswak use for oral hygene in this group is comparable or slightly better than a toothbrush.”
  • A similar study “concluded that the miswak is more effective than toothbrushing for reducing plaque and gingivitis, when preceded by professional instruction in its correct application. The miswak appeared to be more effective than toothbrushing for removing plaque from the embrasures, thus enhancing interproximal health.”
  • Another scientific study, investigating the active substances in Salvadora persica concluded that “The main antibacterial component of both S. persica root extracts and volatiles was benzyl isothiocyanate. Root extracts as well as commercial synthetic benzyl isothiocyanate exhibited rapid and strong bactericidal effect against oral pathogens involved in periodontal disease as well as against other Gram-negative bacteria, while Gram-positive bacteria mainly displayed growth inhibition or remained unaffected.”
  • A study published in 1999 showed that „Silica in Miswak acts as an abrasive material to remove stains giving the teeth whiteness. […] Resin forms a layer over the enamel and thus protects against caries. […] The tannins (tannic acid) exerts an astringent effect on the mucous membrane, thus reducing the clinically detectable gingivitis. Tannins also inhibit the action of glucosyl transferase thus reducing plaque and gingivitis. The alkaloid present in Salvadora Persica exerts a bacteriocidal effect and stimulatory action on the gingiva. […]Essential (volatile) oils possess characteristic aroma and exert carminative, antiseptic action. The mild bitter taste stimulates the flow of saliva, which is antiseptic. The sulfur compounds present in Miswak as shown by their pungent taste and smell have a bactericidal effect. Vitamin C helps in the healing and repair of tissues.