Brushing Your Teeth the Nigerian Way.

Thanks to British colonisation, one of the ways that we Nigerians brush our teeth is much like how the majority of the world brushes their teeth: toothbrush and toothpaste. The second way was commonplace before the British arrived. Nigeria was a country whose inhabitants were and continue to be very in touch with their tribal culture, spirituality, and herbal medicine which translated into the way we go about dental hygiene. Despite the heavy British influence on Nigerian culture, many Nigerians continue to carry on some of their traditions. My family would be among the many.

This morning, I was scurrying down the stairs in pursuit of clean clothes for church. On my way to the laundry room, I passed by my father who was watching soccer on the Spanish channel like a true Naija* man (he really does take advantage of the unlimited access to soccer, one of the many perks of living in Southern California). As I was on my way upstairs, I saw him nibbling on one of these.

Folks, this is what Nigerians call a chewing stick. It’s basically a piece of a soft wood that is known for its cleaning properties when it comes to dental hygiene. I have seen my relatives use this for years either alone or as a prerequisite to brushing their teeth, but I never asked about the specifics concerning its usage in cleaning teeth. So when I asked my father, to my dismay, he couldn’t give me an answer; it was just one of those things that he was taught but never really questioned. But, luckily thanks to Google, I found a scientific journal article that brought my heart joy. Being a Biochemistry major probably has something to do with that.

From the article, I learned that chewing sticks are derived from three different species of trees and each of them have different levels in antimicrobial activity against common microbes such as Staphylococcus aureusStreptococcus pyogenes, and Streptococcus mutans (huge shout out to Dr. Lisa, my former Microbiology professor, for making me familiar with these). Unfortunately, my father did not know which species the one he was using was derived from but the fact that every single one of my relatives that passed away in their late 80s to early 100s still had their teeth in tact and did not wear dentures says quite a bit!

How to Incorporate Chewing Sticks into Your Dental Hygiene Routine

  1. Floss prior to usage, just like you would before traditional teeth brushing. (How many of us actually floss our teeth, though?)
  2. Moisten one end of the chewing stick with water.
  3. Start chewing on the moistened end with your hind teeth until the tip of the chewing stick resembles bristles.
  4. Brush your teeth with the bristled end just like you would a traditional toothbrush. Optional: As you do this, try to spit out the chewed bits with as much class as possible.
  5. You may need to floss again to get  shreds of chewing stick from between your teeth.
  6. Rinse with water. I personally like to also rinse with mouthwash.

So knowing the natural antimicrobial properties of using a chewing stick, how could I pass it up? I’m pretty you can buy some via the interwebs somehow so if you ever want to try out this great way to keep up your dental hygiene, try it out!

For the scientific journal article I mentioned, click here.
*Naija is slang for “Nigerian.”

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  • I really enjoyed reading this – very informative! I have heard of these sticks before but did not know why they were used.

    Love your dress too!

    ♡ Molly

  • Why thank you Molly! I really do enjoy using them. I incorporate them into my dental hygiene routine from time to time but I should be doing it more often. And I appreciate you loving the dress! It was really hard to get out of it that day. It may sound kind of juvenile, but I always feel like a princess every time I wear it.

  • I totally get the 'princess' feel a dress can give! 🙂

  • Oni Sai

    The dress is beautiful. The most important part about your article is that this is an alternative to the brushing teeth. My gums have been receding because of the western tooth brush. I tried using extra soft but it didn’t help. I realized, as an anthropology major, that our ancestors kept clean teeth much like our canine friends do today and thanks to Google, I found your article. Thanks for saving my gums. It makes a difference. by chewing, I restrict access to the upper part of my gums and the sticks are so soft.

  • Yes! Our ancestors were quite the innovative ones. I’m sorry to hear about your gums but I’m glad you found this post helpful, Oni! Thanks for stopping by! 🙂