Miswak: Medicine for the Mouth
From spending over nine months in the Middle East, I’ve become an avid natural toothbrush or Miswak user. As I try to remember where I first came across the herbal stick or twig that is an integral part of daily life in this vast region, my memory recalls the early days here when I’d aimlessly walk for miles looking for new dive restaurants. I once saw a man selling Miswak outside of a traditional eatery. After that evening, I wasn’t able to find this twig again until a coworker told me that the best place to get it is outside of a mosque right when the day’s fifth and final prayer has ended.
Since then I’ve purchased Miswak on an average of once a week from outside of the mosque that’s close to my temporary home.
Miswak comes from the Arak tree or Salvadora Persica. It’s found in arid areas, mostly across the Middle East and India. Still, it’s something that I didn’t discover during my many months on the subcontinent.
In addition to strengthening the gums, preventing tooth decay and eliminating toothaches, Miswak is also said to halt further increase in decay that has already set in. It’s also been claimed that rubbing this stick on your teeth can reverse cavities. It creates a fragrance in the mouth, eliminates bad breath, improves the sensitivity of taste buds and promotes overall cleaner teeth.
This magic medicinal earth stick also prevents gingivitis and plaque, kills bad oral bacteria, and helps to digest food. While chewing on Miswak, small amounts of a natural juice is formed and swallowed. This elixir is supposed to boost the body’s immune system.
A vintage proverb says:
“If the eyes are a window to the soul, then the mouth is the doorway to the body.”
To me, this quote sums up the importance of oral health.
I typically buy my Miswak from either the man you see posing who was kind enough to give me permission to snap this photo or the guy you see selling in the background who doesn’t like to have his picture taken. The man in the background always shakes my hand when and he sees me and then prepares a bundle of the exact sticks I want, typically 11 thick ones for 20 Riyal or $5.33. As you see, they come in different widths and lengths. I’ve come to prefer the thickset variety. Everyone seems to have different preferences.
Here’s a closer view of the sticks I typically purchase. It doesn’t matter how beat up the bark is as it needs to be carved off before being put in the mouth and chewed, then gently pressed against the teeth and gums. One stick can easily last for days. I usually buy extras and give one to coworkers, shop workers who I know in my neighborhood, the janitor who cleans my office, the guys who work in my hotel, taxi drivers and others who are so kind to give me rides.
I bought an herbal twig from this street vendor during my 30 hours in Addis. Ethiopia isn’t part of the Middle East but it’s nestled just beside and under it.
As my time in the kingdom begins to wind down, I realize that I’ll miss my new mouth cleansing discovery; so I’ve decided to pick up the pace and use this natural wonder more often throughout each day. It’s OK etiquette to have it in your mouth under most circumstances, even when you’re teaching.
One of the best things to me about experiencing new parts of the world is the therapeutic opportunities I come across. Personally, Miswak is the greatest surprise I’ve found and embraced here in Arabia.
Have you ever come across something new and wonderfully therapeutic while abroad?
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