How Does the Rest Of the World Brush Their Teeth?


If you live in the United States, you can consider yourself part of the orally hygienic elite, which is about 1 % of the world population.

Believe it or not, most of the world’s population, in particular indigenous cultures and developing countries, still use old-world techniques to keep their teeth clean, or they don’t use any at all. It is only common in the U.S. and other developed countries that use nylon and electronic toothbrushes.

“In many regions of the world, people are cleaning their teeth with twigs, most often from oak and neem trees,” states Dr. Steven Goldberg, general and cosmetic dentist and inventor of DentalVibe. “They break a twig in half, splay and soften the broken end and then rub it on their teeth, in effect, wiping the surface of their teeth clean,” Goldberg adds.

Arab Bedouin tribes still clean their teeth by using the twigs of the arak tree, which contains antiseptic properties. Other Muslim and African cultures use a similar stick, called miswak, which naturally has a high concentration of cavity-fighting fluoride.

A religious group in India cleans their teeth using fingers and without using a brush. Hindu Brahmins and priests clean their teeth using cherry wood for an hour, facing the rising sun. In other parts of India, people use twigs from mango, cashew or coconut trees.

Are modern oral hygiene products and techniques better than the sticks, animal bristles and bones, twigs, feathers and porcupine quills? Or is it that what someone eats is more important for good dental health? And if non-modern societies stick with their traditional diets and don’t eat processed foods, is it even necessary for them to brush at all?

A study from 2010 in the British Medical Journal concluded that people who brushed less than twice a day had an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease. It found that people who consistently brushed their teeth less than twice a day had a 70 % higher risk of developing the disease. Although, the study did not consider the participants’ diets.

Smiling Member Brazilian Pataxto TribeSally Fallon, president of the Weston A. Price Foundation, a nonprofit nutrition education foundation, says that in traditional societies that have no access to Western foods with processed sugars and white flour, many of these indigenous people have no cavities, and flash smiles with perfect pearly white teeth, even though tooth brushing is rare, (or was rare, depending on the society). “Within a very short time of forgoing their traditional, native diets cavities become evident,” says Fallon, adding that the next generation of natives who eat processed food will begin to develop crooked teeth.

Dr. Weston Price, an Ohio dentist, is referred to in some circles as the ‘Charles Darwin of nutrition.’ In the 1930’s he traveled the world as a cultural dental anthropologist so-to-speak. His book, “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration,” features many photos of the teeth of various native societies, from isolated villagers in the Swiss Alps, to the Maori of New Zealand, to the coldwater fishermen of Scotland’s Hebrides islands.”

Price discovered a substance he termed “Activator X” that all the natives with healthy teeth had in their saliva. Price did not know exactly what this was. But science soon classified the cavity combating compound as vitamin K. A study published in the Journal of Dental Research states that in 1942, it was proven that vitamin K prevented the formation of acid buildup, which is a major cause of cavities.

Some of the foods that are high in vitamin K that Price observed traditional societies consuming were:

  • Chicken or goose liver
  • Fermented foods like sauerkraut
  • Grass-fed animal fat
  • Grass-fed, raw butter
  • Egg yolks

It’s not just junk food that causes cavities

Dr. Jacquie Fulop Goodling, a Manhattan-based orthodontist who has traveled the world educating people about oral health, addresses a common misunderstanding, which is that modern-day processed foods alone contribute to dental caries.

“Diet plays an important role but even natural carbohydrates like bread, rice and pasta — the staple in many diets — break down into simple sugars, which can cause decay. Also, there are many factors contributing to periodontal disease and diet is only one of those factors,” Goodling says.

Should Americans ditch their toothbrushes and clean with sticks instead?

It is a fact that all the discarded toothbrushes and toothpaste containers end up in the landfill. But it seems Americans are not interested in cleaning their teeth with twigs. According to the U.S. Market for Oral Care Products oral hygiene products retailed at $9.1 billion in 2008.

Whether you use a toothbrush or a twig, Rebecca Crowley-Huey ( physician assistant at BodyLogicMD of Houston) states, “Oral hygiene can be a very important component to our overall health. The mouth is full of bacteria and not caring for it can cause inflammation. The gums can become unhealthy if proper dental hygiene is neglected and this can create low-grade infection that can cause inflammation and other problems throughout the body.” She adds, “Brain fog, autoimmune disease, gut infection or imbalance, and fatigue can be some of the problems caused by inflammation and your mouth is sometimes your first line of defense against foreign material.”

Two times a day is much better than only one time per day, says Steve Krendl, a dentist at Hopewell Dental in Heath, Ohio. “A thin film of organic matter, called a biofilm, forms quickly on our teeth throughout a day. Left undisturbed, this turns into plaque, which can harden within 24 hours.”

(information taken from, 1/5/2016)