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I asked one of my patients during a dental visit whether he uses chewing stick or toothbrush to clean his teeth, the look on his face was not pleasant. He looked at me amusingly, I can guess he was thinking who still uses chewing stick in this Era, when people are already using electric toothbrush.

Do you know that chewing stick has been in use since ancient times? The first recorded use was in ancient Babylonia (3500 BC) but they were also used in China as far back as 1600 BC. The toothbrush you are currently using just dates back to 300 to 400 years ago. In Africa, many countries have been using tree branches, barks of tree as cleaning agent for many centuries.

In Nigeria, virtually all the tribes use chewing stick in one form or the other and they have different names: Orin ata(Yoruba), Pako ijebu(Yoruba), Atu uhie(Igbo). Most of our old parents are so fond of it that they believe their mouth is not fresh enough until they use chewing stick.

Are they right to believe their breath is fresher with chewing stick?

Would you prefer to use Chewing Stick to using toothbrush? What are the facts?

Chewing Stick

Several researches have established that chewing sticks have many beneficial components for oral health.

The following are the components of chewing stick:

  1. Fibers: The plant fibres remove plaque and simultaneously massage the gums. The fibers also stimulate saliva secretion which enhance effective cleaning of teeth
  2. Tannin: Tannin exerts an astringent effect on the mucous membrane, thus reducing inflammed gums.
  3. Resin: It forms a layer over the enamel and thus protects against caries.
  4. Alkaloids: It exerts bactericidal effect in the oral cavity.
  5. Essential (volatile) oils: It possesses characteristic aroma and exert antiseptic action. This might be effective in dealing with mouth odour.
  6. Sulphur compounds: They have a bactericidal effect.
  7. Vitamin C: Some of these chewing sticks contain vitamin c which is an antioxidant and helps in the healing and repair of tissues.
  8. Sodium bicarbonate: It has mild abrasive properties and is, thus, used as a dentifrice in addition to having a mild germicidal action
  9. High concentrations of chloride: It inhibits calculus formation and help in removing stains from the tooth.

Some researches have shown that the continuous release of milky discharge after chewing some chewing sticks releases Flouride which is important in strengthening the teeth

The list of active components of chewing sticks are many and is beyond the scope of this article.


It is synthetic and was invented about 150 years ago. Of course, the quest for comfort and innovation led to the discovery of this important tool.

toothbrush is an oral hygiene tool used to clean the teeth, gums and tongue .

It consists of a head of tightly clustered bristles , atop of which toothpaste can be applied, mounted on a handle which facilitates the cleaning of hard-to-reach areas of the mouth.

They are available with different bristle textures, sizes, and forms

Of course, there is no stress of having to chew it before using it unlike chewing stick. There are even electric and rechargeable toothbrushes.

Why you may want to consider using Chewing Sticks

  1. It is cheap. Using #250 to buy a toothbrush can get you sizable numbers of chewing sticks that can last you for months.
  2. It is readily available.
  3. It is portable because of its dryness and small size.
  4. It has healing properties which have been confirmed by researches.

Worthy of note is that the World Health Organization has over the years urged people to use chewing sticks as an alternative source of oral hygiene, especially in developing countries where many cannot afford commercial dental products, so next time you see your neighbour or friend using one don’t be surprised, fingers are not equal ☺

The Drawbacks of Chewing Sticks

The bristles may penetrate the gum, this can be taken care of by chewing the cleaning end of the chewing stick to a fine consistency.

The direction of cleansing bristles is parallel to the long axis of stick, thus it may not be possible to access all the surfaces of whole dentition easily.

The point of this write-up is to impress it on your mind that whatever choice you have made, either to use a chewing stick or toothbrush is backed up by science. For the reasons mentioned above, you may want to be using Chewing stick, I have deliberately replaced toothbrush with chewing stick(Orin ata) before and the freshness I felt is nothing compared to my toothbrush and toothpaste. Whichever one you choose, you are good to go.

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  1. Comparative effectiveness of chewing stick and toothbrush: A randomized clinical trial
  2. Facetoface Africa
  3. Chewing Sticks In The Era Of Toothbrush: A Review
  4. The Guardian
  5. Wikipedia


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