People haven’t been brushing their teeth with a toothbrush as long as you might think. It’s really only been about 150 years that people have been using the toothbrush. Before that in Europe people used a cloth to wipe their teeth, but in much of the world the cleaning tool of choice was a miswak, called a cleaning stick or chew stick.

Now some new oral hygiene option. But is this ancient technology really as effective as a toothbrush and toothpaste?

Toothbrush TreeMiswak Basics

The miswak isn’t just any stick. It’s cut from a special tree, called the toothbrush tree or arak tree. People cut a stick about the size of a pencil from the tree. Then you trim the bark off a short section of the stick and chew on that part until it forms bristles. As a final step, you soak the stick in water for 8 hours.

You’re supposed to use the miswak more often than a regular toothbrush: about five times a day is ideal, and you don’t need to use toothpaste. Otherwise, it’s like a regular toothbrush.

After a few days the bristles get worn down and you should cut them off. Then you trim some more bark, chew some more bristles, and you’re ready to brush again.

Hyping the Miswak

If you’re gonna make a move to replace something as ubiquitous as the toothbrush, you’ve got to have some great benefits to promote. And the miswak marketers think they do. They tout that the miswak is completely biodegradable. Compared to toothbrushes, which wash up on beaches all over the world, this could definitely be a benefit for people concerned about this. Also, there’s the fact that the miswak isn’t made of plastic, so it’s a nonpetrochemical option.

And, of course, there’re the potentially harmful chemicals they say are in commercial toothpastes (apparently they’ve never heard of green tea toothpaste).

They also promote the convenience factor of not needing toothpaste, though having to trim and chew your brush every few days kind of counteracts that.

But the big question is: does it clean your teeth as well as a toothbrush?

What We Do and Don’t Know about the Miswak

Some studies seem to suggest that the miswak is somewhat effective at controlling gum disease. There are antibacterial compounds in the miswak that may be as effective as those in toothpaste. The miswak also naturally contains silica, which is sometimes added to toothpastes as an abrasive or teeth whitening compound.

On the other hand, we don’t know how well the miswak works to control tooth decay. And we’re not sure how much erosion the natural silica in the branch will cause.

Until more studies are done, there’s not really enough evidence to suggest that a miswak is a good alternative to a toothpaste and toothbrush. If you want to try the miswak, start by using it just for brushing around lunchtime. Then you can decide how you like it and see if it helps or hurts before committing to it.

If you have questions about maintaining your oral health, please call (610) 272-0828 for an appointment with a Philadelphia dentist at dental Excellence of Blue Bell.