30 May 2002

Tooth cleaning in India

I've finally found an answer for EO Jones. He was our form teacher in 1952-53 but he also liked to reminisce about his time in India - in the Indian Army I suppose?  He told us one day that he didn't clean his teeth with a toothbrush; he thought that tooth brushes damaged gums.  I don't recall him telling us what he did clean his teeth with but he did tell us about the way the 'Natives' in India cleaned their teeth - they used twigs.  He went on to say that he never could discover what sort of twigs they were or where they came from.
I have the answer!  I've recently been reading a travel book by Paul Theroux  (The Great Railway Bazaar) and he tells how the Tamils teeth are prominent "and glisten from repeated scrubbing with peeled green twigs".  The best toothbrush twigs are found in the forests of Madhya Pradesh and are sold in bundles bound like cheroots at the stations in the province.
Too late for EO now I suppose
John Rowe


  1. hello John, I am sure somebody is going to say that I should get out more but I just Googled 'teeth cleaning' and 'India'  and this is what I found:-   Indigenous folk-practices among Nilgiri Irulas in India S. Rajan
    M. Sethuraman
    This article presents ethnobotanical and ethnomedical knowledge of the Irulas. The use of plants to treat the common ailments by Irulas is summarized. These observations are useful to workers involved in health-related developmental activities in tribal areas. Azadirachta indica A. Juss. Meliaceae. Vepaii. Large deciduous tree. Flowers white, commonly planted. The tender twigs are used for teeth cleaning. Young leaf mixed with curry-leaf (Murraya koenigii) is consumed as antiemetic. Leaves boiled in water with the liquid given to children as a remedy for all types of stomach problems due to worm infestation.   found via Google at :-
    http://www.nuffic.nl/ciran/ikdm/1-3/articles/rajan.html   best regards, jim 

  2. John, I found the tooth cleaning discusion interesting because I was involved  in the subject.The tree is called  the Neem tree. In addition to India  it also grows in Africa and other tropical areas.The chemical in it is "azadaractin"and this is a  powerful ,natural insecticide and biocide. In the mid 1990's I bought the rights to it for my company  WR Grace.We got EPA approval to use it as  a safe insecticide for agricultural use. We built a plant in India to extract the chemical  from the seeds of the neem tree and it is now a fairly successful commercial product. Incidently we also  thought about using it to make toothpaste but found that a German company had thought of it first and got a patent.Perhaps if EO had been a scientist instead of a Latin teacher he might have beaten all of us!         Nigel Palmer


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