Natural Oral Health Hygiene Solution Taking Hold in Africa

Across the continent of Africa south of the Sahara, many people go about their daily business with a small stick or twig protruding from their mouth, which they chew or use to scrub their teeth. It is cut from wild trees and shrubs in the bush and its users swear it is even more effective as well as natural and perhaps most importantly, cheaper and therefore much more accessible than the pricey, plastic, typical alternative found in pharmacies and supermarkets.

In Senegal, the chewing stick is called “sothiou”, which means “to clean” in the local Wolof language. In east Africa, the stick is called “mswaki”, the Swahili word for toothbrush. Users say the sticks are also medicinal, providing not just dental hygiene but also curing a variety of other ills. Dental experts agree they seem to clean teeth well and some up-market health stores in the United States have been selling chew-sticks as a natural form of dental care.

In Dakar and other Senegalese cities sell neat bundles of the pencil-sized sticks, usually about 6 inches long, are seen for sale placed on the pavement, in fact, a variety of different types of wood at different prices. The Werek is cut from the branches of the gum tree, while the thicker Neep-Neep is thought to also ease toothache. The Cola, cut from a soft, whitish wood, is prized for its sweet taste. When chewed, most of the twigs fray into finer strands, having the effect of “flossing” between the teeth, or if rubbed up and down, can scrub tooth enamel clean as well as any brush. They can, however, have a bitter taste as compared with commercial toothpastes.

Several studies have suggested that these cleaning sticks are at least as effective as normal toothbrushes and paste in maintaining routine oral health. Laboratory studies have also indicated that the plants from which some of the sticks in Africa are cut contain protective anti-microbial compounds that act against the bacteria in the mouth which cause tooth decay and gum disease. Thus, it is easy to see why the World Health Organization has encouraged the use of chewing sticks as an alternative source of oral hygiene in poor countries where many cannot afford commercial dental products.

In mostly Muslim Senegal, people say there is a religious component to the use of the chewing sticks. In holy Islamic writings known as the Hadith, the Prophet Mohammed recommends their use as part of cleaning rituals that are an essential element of preparation for daily prayers. 

Sample 1st Paragraph for the Bachelor’s Degree in Dental Hygiene

I was born in Somalia but raised in Memphis Tennessee. I am now 33 years old and have visited Somalia many times as both a child and an adult. One of the reasons why I want very much to become a dental hygiene professional is because every time that I have visited my country of origin, it breaks my heart to witness beautiful men and women held captive by their poor dental hygiene. I know that they would wish to smile openly without covering their mouths with their palms. I feel their tragedy very deeply and dream of returning to help Somalia develop structures of oral health care. My country is probably the last place anyone would want to visit, because of the violence and abysmal poverty. So we need to have confidence in our ability to smile.

How’s this for organic? A tooth-brushing twig.

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Posture and positioning: Practicing dental hygiene in the real world