Each culture has a unique way of doing things. Practices in one culture may raise eyebrows in another. While the goal of good oral health is consistent worldwide, different cultures find unique ways of achieving it.

Dental Customs Across Cultures

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Here are some examples of tooth-related customs from around the world:

  • Teeth brushing – While people in the West clean their teeth using a toothbrush and toothpaste, people belonging to some Muslim and African cultures use twigs for teeth-cleaning. The chewing stick or Miswak is used by many cultures as a toothbrush substitute because it is rich in cavity-fighting fluoride. Studies have shown that Miswak performs better than toothpaste. This chewing stick can kill the bacteria that cause gum diseases. The stick is also useful for eliminating bad breath.
  • Green tea for health – In the Chinese culture, green tea is regarded as a healthy drink that will help cure dental problems and infections, including gum diseases. It is used to treat almost all types of infection.
  • Teeth whitening – Some countries place little emphasis on tooth color, but other countries, including China and the U.S., prize white teeth. Think of Hollywood, where nearly every star has a bleached bite. In China and the U.S, people often associate yellow teeth with low economic status and lack of education.
  • Tooth fairy traditions – Different cultures have their own version of the Western Tooth Fairy who comes in the middle of the night to take a lost tooth away and leave money in its place. El Salvadorans believe that a rabbit comes at night to remove teeth. The rabbit, just the like the tooth fairy of the West, leaves a gift of money. The Native American Chippewa tribe members blacken loose teeth with charcoal. Once the tooth is removed, it is thrown towards the West, with the child’s grandmother praying for the permanent tooth to grow strong. In China, children place lower teeth that they have lost on the roof and upper teeth at the foot of the bed. This practice is believed to cause permanent teeth to grow in faster and stronger.

While you may be tempted to pick up a Miswak chewing stick, be careful when adopting dental care practice from other cultures because your mouth, teeth, and gums have already adapted to other practices.