Like many of you, I’ve grown up using plastic toothbrushes with regular toothpaste. Then, as part of my plant-based journey, I discovered fluoride free toothpaste and bamboo toothbrushes. When I heard about bamboo toothbrushes, I was intrigued, excited, but also a little concerned. As, although this was an alternative to plastic toothbrushes, I’d also heard about deforestation and the effects it was having on animals and the environment.
Recently I was watching a nutritional Youtube video, and the vlogger started talking about Balchew sticks, aka chew sticks. A natural method to brush your teeth, fight gum disease and maintain healthy oral hygiene. So, being the kind of person that I am, I went on to research the chew stick, to find out if it was easily accessible, completely cruelty-free, inexpensive and if it works.
History of chew sticks
Chew sticks have been used for centuries all over Africa as a means to clean teeth. Chew sticks are natural toothbrushes made from frayed sticks. Sticks and twigs are cut from various trees and bushes such as licorice bush, gum tree, and the Salvadora Persica tree which locals call “The Toothbrush Tree”. In fact, the World Health Organisation promotes the use of the twigs of the Salvadora Persica tree as a natural toothbrush.
The twigs are generally cut to a thickness of a pencil. The chew-stick is then chewed until the end of the stick frays. The frayed end works like dental floss cleaning in between teeth keeping teeth and gums healthy. Once the end of a chew-stick is frayed it can be rubbed on teeth, much like using a toothbrush, scrubbing food and plaque off teeth.
Chew sticks are much less expensive than traditional western toothbrushes, which made them much more accessible to the average African. In Senegal, they are known as “Sothiou” meaning “to clean” in Wolof and in Eastern African as “Mswaki” meaning “toothbrush” in Swahili. Similarly, Chew sticks still remain inexpensive and easily accessible in western society.
Research suggests chew sticks contain medicinal properties including abrasives, antiseptics, astringent, detergents, enzyme inhibitors, and natural fluoride. More specifically, the licorice root contains a number of healthy compounds such as flavonoids, volatile oils, plant sterols, coumarins, glycosides, asparagine, chalcones, glycyrrhizic acid and anethole. Licorice Root has a peculiar sweet flavour with a faint hint of anise flavour and is sweeter than sugar (sucrose). There are local claims chew sticks whiten teeth, freshen breath and can help with head and stomach problems. Several studies have shown chew sticks are just as effective as toothbrushes and toothpaste for cleaning teeth and gums. During my research, I also came across the Colgate website, http://www.colgate.com/en/us/oc/oral-health/conditions/gum-disease/article/ada-01-licorice-root-fights-oral-bacteria
that supports chew sticks as a way to fight oral bacteria.
The Licorice Stick
The licorice sticks seem to be the easiest root to find. I picked up a pack from http://www.hollandandbarrett.com, 100g for £2.29, so this is going to last me for a long time. When you open the pack, there’s a woody, licorice, menthol smell to them. It’s not strong and I didn’t find it offensive. The sticks are soft and fit in your hand comfortably.
I read that you can soften the end by putting it in your mouth so the saliva blends into the root. I did this and then started chewing the end and it literally became frayed with the appearance of a toothbrush.
Brushing my teeth
Brushing my teeth was easy. I didn’t feel any pain or discomfort and the taste was bearable. Like a toothbrush, I could brush all areas of my teeth and gums. The frayed edges are really soft. It just feels different brushing your teeth with a stick and not using toothpaste. I would recommend having a glass of filtered water to hand, so you can clean the brush and gargle. Let the brush air dry and store it in a toothbrush holder or small, clean container. I’m storing my remaining sticks in the bathroom cabinet.
Well, I ditched my toothbrush. Bamboo deforestation and plastic waste is a huge problem for the environment. Like my plant based lifestyle, I’m taking the attitude of, whatever nature has been providing humans to clean their teeth with for thousands of years, has got to be better than scrubbing your teeth with nylon bristles. I would absolutely recommend this ancient, medicinal, plant-based method. It’s easily accessible, cheaper than traditional toothbrushes has significant health benefits and my teeth and mouth feel clean and fresh.
I will have to do another review after 6 months of using the licorice stick, to give better overview of how I got on with it.
Let me know if you’ve tried the chew stick and what results you got from using it. Did you ditch your toothbrush?
Happy brushing x