Have you ever wondered how people cleaned their teeth prior to the invention of the toothbrush? The answer is with a toothbrush tree! Throughout the Middle East and Africa, the toothbrush tree is the arak tree, or Salvadora persica, and it is still popular today.
The root of the arak tree, called miswak, provides a natural toothbrush. It has antiseptic and astringent properties which help to clean and protect teeth and gums.
The use of miswak was recommended by the prophet Mohammed, founder of Islam. He used it to clean teeth and sweeten breath during fasting and advised its use prior to prayer.
Miswak is sold by street vendors in the Middle East, oftentimes outside mosques. It can also be purchased from companies such as the Al-Khair company based in Pakistan.
To use miswak, soak the root in water for a few hours to soften the natural fibres. Then, scrape off ¼ to ½ inch of bark from the tip and gently chew until fibers have separated and the root becomes brush-like. Clean the teeth by rubbing the miswak (root) up and down as you would a conventional plastic toothbrush. When the fibers become overused, simply cut off the tip of the miswak, scrape off more bark, and continue to use as before.
Although the root is described as “pleasantly bitter,” it is known to leave your breath sweeter. Certainly if you find that you have left your toothbrush behind or forgot to pack the toothpaste, the arak tree root is a natural alternative.