Natural toothbrush alternatives (part 2)
Traditionally used "chewing sticks" have medicinally active properties
Continued from part 1 which covers Neem, Peelu/Miswak, and Gum arabic.
aka toothbrush tree, khoi, serut, and Siamese rough bush
Streblus asper has been traditionally used in Thailand for brushing teeth. A modern scientific study "Antimicrobial activity of Streblus asper leaf extract" (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11268109) was able to confirm that (at least) the leaves of the trea exhibit germ-killing activity against Streptococcus, particularly Streptococcus mutans, the infamous bacterium involved in tooth decay.
Another study made with thirty volunteers ("Selective activity of Streblus asper on Mutans streptococci", www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10720792) confirmed that a mouthrinse made with an extract of Streblus asper leaves could reduce Streptococcus mutans numbers in the oral cavity.
Where to get Neem, Peelu/Miswak and/or Khoi twigs
Unless of course you live in a country where those trees abound, you are likely to find the internet a rich source of online sellers offering these twigs or products derived from them such as toothpaste, tooth powders and rinses containing Neem or Peelu extracts. Otherwise Indian, Arabic, Thai or other Oriental as well as health food retail stores may stock them. In fact, I saw miswak twigs offered in an "alternative health" store just yesterday (July 31, 2010) here in the midst of Berlin, Germany.
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Other things you may wish to try in lieu of a man-made toothbrush
Cinnamon sticks may also work well, and additionally freshen the breath. An outstanding tool is Mastic gum (resin), a healthy chewing gum alternative. Mastic not only helps clean the teeth, but additionally provides natural jaw exercise, freshens the breath, fights bacterial plaque, stimulates the flow of saliva, helps the gums, whitens teeth AND has unique medical benefits to boot.
Sample usage instructions for miswak and similar natural toothbrushes
Chew one end of the twig until the end frays so you obtain a little "brush" with which you clean your teeth and gums (with the fibrous ends cleaning some of the spaces in between the teeth). Cut the used end off after two weeks or so and restart the procedure until the twig has been used up. If available, rinse your mouth with water afterwards which may allow the juices extracted from the twig to help disinfect your mouth.
1 Cinnamon essential oil possesses antimicrobial properties, likely due to cinnamon containing eugenol [most famously found in cloves], an anesthetic which has local antiseptic properties.