The miswak is a teeth-cleaning twig made from the Salvadora persica tree. The miswak’s properties have been described thus: “Apart from their antibacterial activity which may help control the formation and activity of dental plaque, they can be used effectively as a natural toothbrush for teeth cleaning. Such sticks are effective, inexpensive, common, available, and contain many medical properties”.
The miswak is predominant in Muslim-inhabited areas. It is commonly used in the Arabian peninsula, the Horn of Africa, North Africa, parts of the Sahel, the Indian subcontinent, and Central Asia.Wikipedia
Brushing your teeth with a miswak not only has many health benefits, but is also strongly recommended in Islam from a religious perspective.
The religious aspects
The prophet ﷺ strongly recommended the use of miswak, so much, that he would have made it mandatory for Muslims, would it not have been too great an hardship for Muslims:
Umm Habibah reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Were it not hardship for my nation, I would have commanded them to use the toothstick with every prayer as they perform ablution.”
Source: Musnad Aḥmad 26223
Grade: Sahih li ghayrihi (authentic due to external evidence) according to Al-Arna’ut
عَنْ أُمِّ حَبِيبَةَ قَالَتْ قَالَ رَسُول اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ لَوْلَا أَنْ أَشُقَّ عَلَى أُمَّتِي لَأَمَرْتُهُمْ بِالسِّوَاكِ عِنْدَ كُلِّ صَلَاةٍ كَمَا يَتَوَضَّئُونَ
26223 مسند أحمد بن حنبل
26763 المحدث شعيب الأرناؤوط خلاصة حكم المحدث صحيح لغيره في تخريج المسندDaily hadith Online
For more narrations about the miswak, see ahlusunnat.net.
Known health benefits
The miswak is not simply a natural alternative to the commercial toothbrush and toothpaste combination; it is actually far superior to it.
I once saw a science program on TV in the 2000’s in which an experiment was set up. Four candidates, under dental supervision, were each to test different dental and oral hygiene methods for one week.
- One used the known toothbrush-toothpaste combo
- Second candidate used a miswak only
- Third candidate didn’t use anything, but only ate raw food
- Fourth candidate ate everything he would normally eat and didn’t brush his teeth at all
Needless to say, the last two failed and the experiment had to be stopped for them after a few days, because their oral health went visibly down the drain. So the more interesting part was the comparison between the miswak and the tootbrush-toothpaste user. The dentists certified both of them as having acceptable oral hygiene and health. But they also attested that the miswak user had a much better oral flora than the toothbrush user.
I had the impression that this was not the desired result of this experiment, because the doctors were allowed to mention this important finding, but they did not dwell on it for long in the broadcast. 😀
You might say a week is too short for an experiment of this kind. But there are also long-term studies.
World Health Organization (WHO) recommended the use of the miswak in 1986.
Some of this further research has been done on a population of 203, and concluded, “that the periodontal status of miswak users in this Sudanese population is better than that of toothbrush users”. Yet another comparative study conducted on a sampling of 480 Saudi Arabian adults found that “the level of need for periodontal care in the sample chosen is low when compared with the findings of similar studies undertaken in other countries. The frequent use of the ‘Miswak’ was associated with a lower need for treatment”.Wikipedia
Where to obtain a miswak?
Miswaks are sold in Muslim bazaars (marketplaces), in some mosques and also online in Muslim shops. Assuming that you use a miswak 5 times a day, one miswak will last you for 3-4 weeks depending on the quality and how often you shorten it.
If you’ve ordered a few to keep on hand, it’s best to store them in the fridge, but not in the freezer.
How to properly use a miswak
Most miswaks are delivered in a hygienic, vacuum-packed plastic sleeve.
After unpacking, you’ll need to use a sharp knife to carve about a finger’s width off the bark until you see the inner, lighter wood.
Now chew on the exposed wood with your molars until the wood becomes softer and softer and slowly tattered. But do not bite off.
When it’s ready, you can start brushing your teeth with it. As a beginner, it can happen that you cut too deep into the bark. Then a few wood particles might end up in your mouth during the first brushing. Don’t worry, just rinse your mouth and continue. Brush vertically from right to left, not from bottom to top (your gums will thank you). Start with the teeth on the right and work your way to the left.
When you’re done, briefly wash the tip of the miswak with water and rinse your mouth. Place the miswak somewhere upright. This ensures that the residual liquids in the miswak slowly sink to the bottom.
I prefer to put the miswak back in the plastic cover (this keeps the moisture of the miswak longer) and put it in the fridge for the cool effect the next time I use it. But these are just personal preferences.
After a few times of use you will notice that the “brush” becomes softer and softer, to a degree that it is already too soft and its cleaning effect diminishes.
Then it’s simply time to cut off the entire brush head and start over and carve the next part free. You can use up to 80%-85% of the miswak that way.
In the last 15-20% of the miswak, it becomes difficult to keep the miswak stable while brushing anyway. And by then some bacteria will have sunk to the bottom of the miswak if you always set it upright after cleaning.
I use the miswak at least 5 times a day and I never have plaque. And I have the impression that it is the only effective means that keeps the teeth white, despite drinking coffee and black tea.