One of the worst things about the zero-waste movement is the pressure to buy many particular “low-impact” (and often expensive) personal care products. To name a few:
Bamboo toothbrushes, castille soap and/or shampoo bar, silk floss, menstrual cup, period panties, safety razor, bamboo hairbrush.…
I’m not often a fan of the Zero Waste “essentials” that most influencers promote. I have a problem with silk floss because of killing silk worms for a disposable product. I have a problem with castille soap because it wrecks my hair. And I have a problem with bamboo toothbrushes, because often they still cause trash and I still end up with nylon bristles in my mouth- which I don’t like.
Today, I want to talk about about an item that works as toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss, all while being very low-impact on the environment: the miswak.
What led to my discovery of the miswak was my discontentment with the nylon bristles that “sustainable” toothbrushes often still have. And, to boot, all bamboo toothbrushes (at my local grocery stores, at least) are still packaged in plastic. It doesn’t matter that pretty much every Zero Waste blogger or influencer recommends a bamboo toothbrush– I just felt like there had to be something that cut down on waste more than that.
I’m very happy to have found the miswak for many reasons. One unexpected one is that I can now easily clean my wisdom teeth. I really did not want to end up with an infection, as many regular toothbrush users do because the average toothbrush is too large to reach all around their mouth.
Best of all though, miswak are an almost all-in-one dental care solution. The miswak functions as toothbrush and paste, floss, and tongue cleaner! Though from personal experience, (my husband tells me) when I have a cold, the miswak does not help sick breath…I opt for some of his mouthwash at that point or I spread a dab of activated charcoal on my tongue most nights before I go to bed so it can clean my mouth without damaging my teeth as it might from brushing with it.
The miswak is usually packaged in plastic, but I can now avoid the nylon bristles, a toothbrush’s upstream manufacturing waste, and floss packaging (synthetic or natural).
So what is a miswak?
A miswak is a twig from a mustard tree that has amazing antibacterial properties within its fibers. The miswak has been used as a teeth cleaning instrument for an estimated 7000 years in the Middle East and Africa. It is the O.G. toothbrush. Once moistened, the root fibers soften and separate and make the perfect gentle and effective toothbrush.
Why is a miswak worth using?
Miswak naturally contain:
- tannins (the same component found in wine that makes it an astringent)
- natural fluorine and calcium
- resins to create a protective seal over a tooth’s enamel
- silica and saponins, which both naturally remove stains
Miswaks don’t contain all of the terrible things you may find in traditional toothpaste like colors, artificial sugars, triclosan , and others.
How a miswak is used:
Miswak sticks come in a length of about 6 inches and (unfortunately) usually individually wrapped in plastic. To begin use, insert one into a jar that is half full of water and let soak for around 3 hours before the first use just to soften the inner fibers. Trim about 1/2 inch of bark off with a kitchen knife and chew gently with molars to separate the fibers. The inner fibers then begin to act like a soft bristle toothbrush. I think the flavor is similar to ginger 🙂 You can then hold the stick like a pencil and polish your teeth.
Really cool things about a miswak:
The nice thing about the miswak is that you can use it anywhere- no water or toothpaste needed! I often use mine when I’m on a walk or waiting outside for an Uber. I end up spending around 15 minutes at a time just subconsciously cleaning my teeth- which is much longer than I ever used to brush them when I was bound to brush standing at the bathroom sink.
Now given the time it takes to clean one’s teeth one by one, I do still opt for my toothbrush and my husbands (toxic) Colgate toothpaste when I’m in a rush. However, when I budget my time better, I can go months solid without using my toothbrush.
Lastly, an unexpected benefit is that it doesn’t mess with your tastebuds as regular toothpaste does. A miswak completely avoids the weird aftertaste that you get when you eat immediately after brushing your teeth with a strong minty toothpaste. Or baking soda, for that matter.
Other Zero Waste/Low Impact oral care products I use:
-A tartar scraper for occasional plaque. It saves me a trip to the dentist that would use and dispose of many harmful chemical substances.
-Bentonite clay paste for whitening. It saves the individually wrapped plastic gel whitening strips.
I have been using a miswak for most of this year now, and I plan to continue. Each miswak stick lasts around several weeks and works wonderfully. After each use, my teeth feel smooth and resist plaque growth much longer than usual. ^.^ It’s definitely worth a try for those of you who are feeling adventurous enough to use a root to clean your teeth!
- A study on the effectiveness of the peelu miswak – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3545237/
Disclaimer: The information presented in this article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any dental disease or problems. I am not a dental professional or medical professional, just an informed consumer sharing my personal experience with a product.