A miswak, or mishwak is an all-natural toothbrush used for millenia by Muslims and some Jews. Basically it is a root taken from a bitter tree that has been whittled to reveal the fibres within and soaked in water or more preferrably rose water until it is soft enough to be used to polish the teeth.

The Peelo, Peelu or Arak tree as known in Urdu and Arabic respectively, is the most popular tree to take miswaks from and has been shown to contain 17 different compounds that aid in maintaining healthy white teeth and gums. Other less commonly used roots come from the olive and walnut trees. In most countries where miswaks are found it is illegal to sell miswaks taken from certain trees, in particular the pomegranate, as it is known to cause illness through use. It is also forbidden to keep a miswak in the washroom, contrary to the way Westerners use toothbrushes. A new miswak should be approximately one hand span in length and be perfectly straight.

Miswaks dispose of many drawbacks commonly associated with the Western style toothbrush. No paste, rinsing, spitting or water (save that used to soften the miswak) is required, and so many Muslim men carry a miswak with them throughout the day to use anytime they want a clean mouth.

The major reason to want to use a miswak is religious: if a Muslim brushes with a miswak before any of the five daily prayers his reward for praying with a clean mouth is multiplied many times.

Although there are no commandments in the Quran for Muslims to use miswak as a tooth brush, one will find many references in Hadith. One such hadith read as follow, "if it were not too much of a burden on the believers, I would prescribe that they use the siwak before each prayer."

The latin name for the tree is Salvadora Persica, known as Arak in Arabic.

The root of the tree is composed of the following,

Trim ethyl amine.
alkaloid salvadorine.
Chloride.
High amounts of fluoride and silica.
Sulphur.
Vitamin C.
Small amounts of Tannin, saponin, flavonoidsterol.

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http://www.fao.org/docrep/X5327e/x5327e1j.htm
http://www.crescentlife.com/wellness/miswak.htm
According to the label on a miswak I bought:
Before the advent of plastic, synthetic toothbrushes, people in many parts of the world cleaned their teeth with wood from the all natural Toothbrush tree. Today, many still use Miswak as their primary preventative measure in oral hygeine.

In Islamic tradition, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: "Make a regular practice of Miswak, for verily it is the purification for the mouth and a means of pleasure of the Lord" [Al-Bukhari]

Potential benefits with Regular use: Research shows that the bark of the "Toothbrush tree" contains an antibiotic which suppresses the growth of bacteria and the formation of plaque in the mouth*. Research also suggests that the regular use of the miswak signifigantly reduces plaque, gingivitis, and the growth of carcinogenic bacteria* No toothpaste required! Miswak naturally contains many components such as fluoride, astringents, detergents, resins (a possible enamel protectant) and abrasives.*

Easy to Use: Simply scrape off bark from the tip (1/2"), then chew the tip gently until brush-like and the fibers become soft. Brush teeth horizontally and frequently. When the bristles are worn and the flavor has subsided, cut them off & repeat instructions.

* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

mr100percent's experience: It's not bad. You have to soak the tip in water for a few hours for it to become soft and toothbrush-y (something the directions didn't mention, but everyone told me to do). It's got a wooden but natural flavor, and does a pretty good job at cleaning. It's a little bit coarser than a regular plastic toothbrush, but after getting used to it, I use it even more frequently than a regular toothbrush. Most people carry it in their pocket, it doesn't need water or spitting, so you can brush anywhere really. It's quite common in Africa, South Asia, and the Middle East. Since it grows on trees (though the shopkeeper once told me that I got a root instead of a branch), it's very cheap, expendable, and thus the perfect toothbrush for much of the world.

Links (to buy and find more info): http://www.alkhaircqw.com/
http://www.4immunity.com/
http://www.zamzaminternational.com/

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