A miswak is a chewing stick which resembles a small twig, and is most commonly used as a toothbrush. This twig is usually found on the arak tree, a member of the salvadora persica tree family, and can have several purposes. There are both religious and health benefits that are associated with miswak. The origin of this special twig traces back over 6,000 years in Middle Eastern countries, and was often used as the only method for oral hygiene. Several other trees have been known to produce a similar chewing stick, including walnut and olive trees.
The health benefits include fighting cavities, eliminating bad breath, increasing salivation, killing gum disease, and removing plaque. There are mints that are coated with miswak that provide oral health benefits and are sold in popular markets. The bristles are parallel to the twig, which enhances the brushing technique and allows users to clean hard to reach places. Miswak has many antibacterial properties that increase its efficiency and enables the twig to help fight various oral diseases.
Practitioners of Islam attribute religious significance to the use of miswak because Islam's last messenger often brushed his teeth with the twig and promoted its use by placing an importance on the cleanliness of body and mind. There are numerous other references throughout Islamic literature that accredit religious strength to this particular chewing stick. Some cultures believe that a healthy body appeases a higher power, which increases the importance of miswak in certain countries.
The tree is a small evergreen shrub that has thick oval mustard-scented leaves that are often used in salads. Some cultures use the leaves for medicinal purposes, including treatment of chronic coughing, asthma, and rheumatism. Most of the trees that provide miswak have tiny berries that are also edible, and the small flowers are used as a purgative agent. These uses of the salvadora persica tree family vary depending on the culture, but the entire tree can be used for medicinal, religious, or nutritional purposes.
There are essential components that make this natural tooth brush highly effective for oral hygiene. Tannic acid, an astringent, helps reduce gingivitis. Resin, a product of metabolism, produces a protective coat over the enamel of the teeth in order to prevent cavities. Alkaloids, an organic compound found in plants, have bactericidal properties that also fights gingivitis. These twigs also have small amounts of vitamin C that promote the healing of oral tissue.