1001 Uses For Dental Floss #25: Oral Hygiene And Religion

Religion and Oral Hygiene

I know I’m going to get into trouble with someone here. Although it’s said that we shouldn’t discuss religion, sex, or politics over dinner, is that admonition still true in front of the bathroom mirror? Doing a study of comparative religion based on differences in attitudes to oral hygiene may not say much about those religions in general, or perhaps may be instructive of differences in world views and attitudes. Well, here goes. Please don’t take offence.

1. Islam

In Islam, wudu (ablution) is required before prayer (5 times a day) or the reading of the Quran, and one of these recommended forms of wudu is the cleaning of the teeth using a piece of fragrant wood (miswak) from the arak tree. If that is unavailable, the use of a toothbrush and a toothpaste prepared according to Islamic principles is an acceptable substitute, and even that not being at hand, the teeth can be cleaned by rubbing them with clean fingers and rinsed with water. So Islam definitely gets credit for promoting good oral hygiene.

2. Judaism

More admonition than promotion here. Jewish law is interpreted in terms of certain acts being permitted or not during shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) and certain holy days.

Thus, there are comments by some rabbis about brushing, flossing, and tooth paste. For Orthodox Jews, on Shabbat it seems that toothpaste is not permitted as squeezing the tube could be interpreted as sculpting, which is not permitted during that period. Also a dry brush should be used, and it shouldn’t be rinsed afterwards. Hardly a hygienic way of dealing with the biological problem of disease bacteria. Some variance allows the use of a liquid tooth cleaning solution.

On Yom Kippur, brushing is forbidden for 26 hours.

One of the important principles is not to cause bleeding, so a soft toothbrush is suggested. However, bleeding is caused by gum inflammation which is the result of plaque bacteria not being adequately removed. Good brushing and flossing technique would result in healthy gums and no bleeding. Definitely a low mark for oral hygiene practices in Orthodox Judaism.

On the other hand, when asked if a woman going to the mikveh (ritual bath) must floss before immersion, the answer is yes, to remove particles of food between the teeth. The principle here is that the woman should be as clean as possible before immersion. There was even a suggestion by one rabbi that it would be better to floss regularly to prevent a “mishap” before entering the mikveh. Presumably, although my interpretation could be wrong, this refers to bleeding from the gums if a woman only flosses at the occasion of using the mikveh and not on other days. So at least in this case the Orthodox advice may be consistent with good oral hygiene.


A bit obscure. The analogy of dental hygiene and specifically flossing are cited as a way of understanding the relationship between God, suffering, clarity in one’s faith and our relationship to good deeds that are unrewarded in our lifetimes. Blake Hart, a Christian missionary living in Chile, uses the contradictory results of his good oral hygiene and poor dental record and contrasts that with his wife Bekah’s inconsistent flirtation with adequate oral care and her great results at the dentist’s office. Life is unfair. Why? Ask Job, he says.

See his blog at http://recoveringseminarian.wordpress.com/2013/02/20/toothbrushes-and-job/

One of the posts in the blog “The King’s Dale”, which is about Christian matters from the perspective of what seems to be an evangelical Protestant, is titled “Dental floss for the brain”, which I found a little intriguing, since the connection between God and dental floss doesn’t at first spring to mind, or at least not mine, except if we remember the homily that cleanliness is next to godliness.

The author of that blog was flossing his teeth when the image of all the disgusting dangers that lie hidden in between the teeth came upon him. He felt that “many Christians whose lack of interest in studying Scripture in-depth is akin to not wanting to floss.” This, he feels, is an immaturity in the faith which presents dangers when life difficulties happen, and the resultant ignorance leads to spiritual disease. So the study of the The Word would prevent false doctrines festering in the recesses of the mind, leading to the need for some spiritual mental/dental hygiene, I suppose, and if allowed to go on, to the need for a spiritual root canal treatment, gum surgery, or ultimately, a spiritual extraction.

I told you I would have to be careful here. On the surface, though, the author of the blog definitely advocates flossing.

Dental floss for the brain

A bit obscure.

I came across one question on a Catholic forum about whether oral hygiene is permissible during the Eucharistic mass. Unanswered and obscure.

Hinduism and Jainism:

Most Hindus have a ritual of cleanliness and prayer each morning, which includes brushing the teeth, followed by bathing, prayer and then eating. Oral hygiene is very important to most Hindus, especially those who practice ayurvedic principles.

Many Hindus prefer to brush their teeth immediately after waking in the morning and some may also scrape their tongue with a metal tongue scraper. This is done to avoid the ingestion of impurities that may have built up in the mouth during sleep.

Hindu Brahmins and priests, especially in the region of Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh, India) clean their teeth using cherry wood twig for an hour, facing the rising sun. They must have very clean teeth after that, and maybe even gum trauma. Orthodox Jains clean their teeth using only their fingers and without using the brush.

Chewing sticks or twigs derived from many plants are used in many religions and cultures, and some have antimicrobial properties. Twigs offer mechanical cleaning action.

The rural folk in Udupi region of Karnataka in India use the twigs from mango or cashew tree. Neem and banyan twigs are commonly used in the rural areas of Tamil Nadu, coconut twigs in the rural areas of Kerala. Datun is used in North India. In African countries, twigs from salvaodora persicca are used, and they seem to have a high concentration of fluoride, which may offer anticaries action that add the the benefits of cleaning the teeth.


The Chinese have long been paying special attention to dental health. They started oral hygiene and oral care way back in ancient times. The earliest toothbrush was introduced into China with Buddhism. It was a poplar branch with one end made into the shape of a brush, used to clean the teeth when dipped in medicine or aromatic herbs. Some people would clean their teeth by just chewing tender poplar or willow branches.
In the Southern Song Dynasty, mass-produced toothbrushes were available on the market. The toothbrushes were made of bones, horns, bamboo, wood and other materials, with one end having two lines of drilled holes for hair fixing. The hair was made of horsetail. The toothbrushes were similar in outward appearance to their modern-day counterparts.

Gargling was the most common way of mouth rinsing in ancient times. The earliest gargles include wine, vinegar, salt solution, tea, and water.

An early form of medicated tooth paste was recorded in the Taiping Holy Prescriptions for Universal Relief compiled under the commission of Emperor Taizong of the Song Dynasty: the paste obtained by boiling and concentrating the sap of willow branches, Chinese scholar tree branches and mulberry branches are mixed with ginger juice, and the root of Chinese wild ginger can be used to clean the teeth.

American Native Religion:

The Inca of Peru and the Aztec of Mexico used the toothbrush as early as the year 1000 AD. The Inca made their toothbrushes from a Molli tree and the Aztec took a twig from a plant they called tlatlauhcapatli. The plant had astringent properties, which cleaned the teeth but also tightened the gums and freshened the breath. Aztec dentists prescribed salt water as a mouth rinse.

Mouthwash used by North American natives was derived from the gold thread plant, which contains berberine, an alkaloid similar to nicotine and morphine in its effects. Witch hazel was another source. Precontact American Indians valued dental care and good mouth hygiene.


I read one letter that stated that the writer was a scientologist and cured her cavities through hypnosis, but this could be a tongue in cheek comment.


Not technically a religion, although believing it requires a lot of faith, but I can’t resist. What is the homeopathic way of rinsing the teeth clean? It can’t be done. The more you rinse, the dirtier the teeth get. Think about it.

Atheism: I read one claim that atheists floss. Why?

Devil worship: Another individual claimed that she made a pact with the devil that granted her clean teeth that don’t require brushing and flossing. Good luck.

Verrily, some of these citations are of questionable validity, but you gotta have faith.

But floss anyway. Believe me.


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