The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish
June 28, 2011

Verdict on Neem Chew Stick Toothbrushes

After last month’s comprehensive review of eco-friendly toothbrushes, I tried another alternative: neem chew sticks from Neem Tree Farms. Chewing on various kinds of sticks for tooth cleaning has been a routine part of life in India, Africa, and the Middle East for centuries. So I ordered a bunch to try. The neem sticks from Neem Tree Farms are grown in North America and are shipped fresh from the farm the day they are harvested. Other than growing my own neem plant, this option seemed to be the lowest impact, plastic-free tooth brushing solution, assuming it worked for me.

I asked the company to send me my neem sticks without any plastic packaging. They arrived in a plain brown paper bag inside a cardboard mailer. So far so good.

Neem chew stick toothbrushes

Neem chew stick toothbrushes

Storage: The Neem Tree Farms web site instructs, “For best results, refrigerate or freeze until you’re ready to use them but keep them in paper not plastic.” I stored mine in a glass jar. WRONG THING TO DO!

Neem chew stick toothbrushes

Sadly, they grew fuzzy white mold. What an expensive waste! This is the second time this month I have created a disaster after failing to follow instructions. (The first being my attempt to carbonate red wine in a Soda Stream soda maker. There’s a reason they say to only carbonate water. But I digress.) I’m sad not just because of the waste but because I planned to give away the rest to one of you guys. Why? Well, they just didn’t work so well for me.

How they work: Before the mold took over, I experimented with brushing my teeth with the sticks. The simple explanation is that you put one stick in your mouth and nibble off the bark with your teeth. Then, you chew on the inside fibers until they separate like bristles. The sticks are hard, and this process takes a while. I think it took me about 10 minutes to have something I could actually brush with.

Neem chew stick toothbrushes

Neem chew stick toothbrushes

And the brushing itself? For me, unsatisfying. Maybe I didn’t give the sticks enough of a try, but with the length of time it took to make the brush and knowing that I would have to repeat the same procedure each morning (you are supposed to cut off the end and start fresh each time), I just didn’t have the will to get better at it. And that’s ironic because one of the values of the sustainability movement is getting people to slow down and be mindful. I can see how chewing on neem could be a kind of meditation. But honestly, I have a hard enough time forcing myself to brush my teeth twice a day. Anything that makes it harder is not a good idea for me.

Want to try it? Here’s a funny video I found on Youtube explaining how to use a miswak stick, which is a different kind of wood but similar procedure. (Note that miswak is part of the Muslim religion, so this video has a quote from the Koran at the beginning. I couldn’t find a secular video showing the procedure.)

I really wish this solution had worked for me. If you’re interested, don’t let my failure stop you from having a go at it. Have you tried it already? What do you think?

56 Responses to “Verdict on Neem Chew Stick Toothbrushes”

  1. Babbit says:

    If salvadora persica contains sodium bicarbonate, doesn’t miswak ruin your teeth? Doesn’t anyone know if neem contains it too?

  2. Datwan says:

    This is an old thread, but for anyone googling it, I thought it important to note that there has actually been a scientific study of this. The study found neem sticks to be just as good at reducing gingivitis, and significantly better at reducing plaque, than toothbrushes:

  3. Amor says:

    I started using Miswak sticks this year (2015) and I am really happy with them. It takes a while to get used to them but I’m amazed at how much they have whiten my teeth.

  4. rubinianbalagan8 says:

    wat is the cost of each packet

  5. msoliman64 says:

    Good afternoon
    I have a neem tree at my villa. I brush my teeth using neem sticks regularly between 5-7 times a day for the last 6 months. I stopped chemical brushing. I found it an excellent solution for my teeth, gums and mouth smell.
    Dr. Soliman

  6. AiloraBlue says:


    I read about doing this years ago and always wanted to try it but until recently I mistakingly thought the miswak twigs were the only twigs that could be used. Once I found out that there’s many north American varieties that could be used, I went into my own back yard and got a sassafras twig and began gnawing away on it. I find this process very satisfying and beneficial. I’ve never liked traditional synthetic plastic toothbrushes, they never seem to get my back teeth smooth. And I’m an avid brusher. I take my time and really get to every tooth surface. Still my back teeth felt rough. So anyway, after I started using the sassafras toothstick, and I mean immediately as in a few minutes after first trying it, my teeth were slick and smooth. I LOVE using toothsticks and I can see there’s no turning back for me. I’ve printed out a guide for everyone in my family and gotten them all sassafras and oak twigs to try themselves. Also, I read that you can use your twig several times before cutting off the used bristles and starting over. I carry my toothstick with me all day and periodically have a nibble / scrub. I think you ought to give it another try!


  7. Kathy7187 says:

    I used neem sticks while traveling in India. In the early morning, you look down from your hotel window and see hotel employees, drivers, rickshaw or chai wallahs on the street, or just about anybody, chewing on neem sticks. Perhaps they are leaning against a building, or sitting on a curb, enjoying the morning and chewing their neem sticks. When staying in an Indian home, we walked outside to the backyard and broke twigs off a neem tree and chewed those. You don’t actually “brush” with them, just chew them and they will do their work. Many street vendors sold neem sticks, a bundle for a few rupees, perhaps. The vendor sat down on a little mat on the street, unrolled a cloth, and laid out the neem sticks. By the way, many people I saw in India, including the poor which is the majority, had brilliant white teeth. It’s such an intense flavor, you can just feel that it has many benefits.   Kathy

  8. HabibOne says:

    Natural teeth care fixes are the option for oral hygiene for some who wish to stop the toxins and preservatives in common dental products. The chemicals in mouthwash can incorporate alcohol and fluoride as well preservatives and chemical foaming agents. It’s totally possible to receive the same results using natural solutions from around your home. Check out for more on miswak.

  9. dostana2013 says:

    the most effictive miswak “siwak”  is brought from from the ” Arak tree” roots   not the twigs .
    muslims use miswak from the  roots of ” Arak tree ”  it is amazing .

  10. frhassim says:

    hi its good to hear but really you should have soak those twigs overnite in some water then chew it a bit makes it much easier also once you got the brush ready as in your pic you dont have to cut it off u can use it like that until you see it looks finish about 2  or 3 weeks  by then the next part will only need a bit of chewing and itll be ready .also this stick doesnt have to be used twice you can just keep it in your pocket n brush wheneva u feel like it will keep you fresh all day. it will strenthen ur brain,etc theres over100 benefits for using the toothstick

  11. seanthomasbrooks says:

    Uhhh those sticks used in the video are not NEEM STICKS… Get you info in order before posting all over the place..

    • BethTerry says:

      @seanthomasbrooks I didn’t say they were neem sticks.  I wrote, “Here’s a funny video I found on Youtube explaining how to use a miswak stick, which is a different kind of wood but similar procedure. “

      • seanthomasbrooks says:

        @BethTerry  @seanthomasbrooks  its just a bit mis leading and could be written to explain that… as a reader if I was not informed I would not know the difference. I have used both sticks and one is way more different than the other that is all.

        • BethTerry says:

          @seanthomasbrooks I wrote that it’s a different kind of wood.  I don’t know how I could have been any more clear.

  12. lmyers-tothemax says:

    i really dont see the problem with a normal toothbrush i think its a clever idea but to work 10 minutes on something i can do in 2 is not worth it.

  13. Well, those neem sticks look pretty thick to me. I use dogwood twigs, in my area that’s Cornus florida. I have also used neem twigs when I visit south Florida where the tree can survive–it’s too cold in north Florida. Fraying the end really does not take that long if it is a twig.

    As for fresh plant material in a glass jar–always an herbalist’s nightmare in hot and humid climates. Rosita Arviga learned this right off during her apprenticeship in Belize. Paper bags are the way to go.

  14. Dmarie says:

    hmnn…if I were walking the Appalachian trail and a wild boar ate my toothbrush, a stick might seem like a good idea. you get major points for trying this, and thanks for reminding me of the importance of checking out sustainable options for EVERY product. must remember this!

  15. Nubby Tongue says:

    Blehh…. that doesn’t look fun at all. How much less effective would it be to use a cloth wrapped around a finger and some floss?

  16. Anita says:

    I’m interested in starting using this, but i wonder how do you use it effectively on the back side of the teeth ?

  17. Rosa says:

    Beth, do you have a good nonplastic commercial toothpaste recommendation? Tom’s of Maine just went to all plastic tubes AND discontinued the only flavor my kid has ever liked.

  18. Mary says:

    this is not a plastic FREE alternative – however there are toothbrushes made of recycled yogurt cups. They come in packaging that has prepaid postage so that you can mail it back to be recycled again.

  19. Luke says:

    Didn’t worked good as a toothbrush for me but i used them when i quit smoking to keep my mouth occupied.

  20. Rodosee says:

    A few points from India, where this method is still used, though not as widely as it was 30 years ago.

    (1) Were the sticks really very dry? Here, we use young twigs off the plants because they are easiest to chew. they’re a bit more slender than what you seem to have there. Also because you don’t mention the taste, which should have been quite a notable thing had you had young, fresh sap in the twigs
    (2) No, it’s not something used centuries ago. It’s in use in living memory, though — like I was saying, rarer than 30 years ago, when it seemed ubiquitous in my child’s eyes. Lots of long-lived people around here with all their teeth — can’t recall more than two of my 15-odd grandparents, great-grandparents and great-uncles and aunts having ever had caries of any sort (and no, dentist’s visits as prevention are STILL not the norm, so that’s not regular professional cleaning doing the trick).
    (3) I’m guessing the pregnancy warning is statutory for any herbal product that hasn’t expressly been studied for safety in pregnancy. Neem does nothing terrible to your hormones that regular food doesn’t (there are enough phytoestrogens in food even without soy coming into the picture; there are other foods that cause migraines, relieve aches and whatnot… all food has ‘side effects’, if you look really hard for them). In India, or at least the eastern part of the country, we eat neem leaves all the time as a delicacy. No one stops using neem twigs or eating the leaves because they are pregnant. (And it’s not our of ignorance — there ARE proscribed foods, such as raw poppy seed paste.) We do stop when breastfeeding, but only because some children (supertasters, i guess) can taste the difference in mother’s milk.
    (4) It shouldn’t take very long to brush with these — in fact, we try to peel the bark with the front teeth, then actively chew on the end to soften it and use alternate sides to do that, because the very act of chewing cleans the teeth for the most part. After that, a quick once-over. But yeah, nowhere near as fast as toothpaste… though like someone’s already said, the idea isn’t to do this at ‘brushing time’. We do it between tasks or while doing other stuff — on your morning walk, while walking the dog, reading the paper, watching an after-dinner movie, waiting for the bath to fill are all good ideas!

    • Dhrupad gupta says:

      hi there i m regular user of it and feel refresh more than normal tooth brushing……its my experience but my grand father experience he is above 80 year they say they never ever go to dentist(dant vedhya)  actually i see in his mouth….they have all the teeth actually there……..i feel very bad that i started neem brushing very late…..yeah you say it correctly i do my brushing with my daily works like walking, doing work some time i do it while i was on bed….i don’t thing that ugly foam getting out of my teeth….its taste is bit bitter but actually its refreshing….

  21. Purvi says:

    Hello Beth,

    You and your blog are an inspiration. I try to do my bit to be caring to mother nature while not compromising the convenience since I am a working mom and shortcuts really help. My husband was all for convenience that could border onto luxury to be lazy and after seeing your TED talk and a brief visit to your blog, i see him remembering to carry the cloth bags I always have in his car to the grocery store. Great initiative!

    This post made me comment for the first time, because I grew up in India brushing teeth this way (only during vacations, because during school days it is time-consuming), but my grandparents never used a tooth-brush, just this or stems of a specific variety of dry-thorny-acacia like plant. We didnt even buy it, neem trees were so much in abundance on road sides, my grandparents would go out for a walk, pluck a few branches, use the fresh leaves for boiling water for bathing (neem is a great antiseptic), and use the stems for brushing!

    I am very fond of this method and it brings me childhood memories back, thank you so much for posting it. I was thrilled to see you explore this option!

  22. Karli says:

    They might not have told you this but your supposed to soak them in water overnight before you use them. It really helps soften the bark and bristles. Brushing with miswak does take longer, because the thing’s so much smaller.

  23. Sakeenah says:

    I don’t use neem sticks, but miswaks. I haven’t tried using them exclusively for brushing but maintenance in between. Like the poster mentioned above, I find it really irritating that I can’t find them except individually wrapped in plastic.

    I think you are doing it wrong, we shave some of the end off with a knife and then chew to soften. I don’ think you need to try to chew through the bark, it just shouldn’t take that long to get it ready to go. And I don’t think you need to start fresh everyday. I think rinsing it is sufficient. Sorry about the mold, I have never had that happen with a miswak stick like that.

    I haven’t been using it long enough to give you a report back from the dentist, but it feels very good on the gums, seems to be very good for the circulation.

  24. Erika says:

    That is too bad about your failed SodaStream experiment, because carbonated red wine would be AWESOME!!!

  25. Natalie Diebolt says:

    Where can you order seeds or plants? Could they grow well in a pot?

  26. Reenie R says:

    I have been searching for more natural toothpaste sold in a glass jar and this came up. Has anyone used Uncle Harry’s peppermint toothpaste?

  27. Reenie R says:

    I’ve read that licorice can provoke hypertension, so if someone has really high blood pressure, they should check with a health care person to be sure chewing on licorice sticks are okay for them.

  28. I bought some Neem tea and then realized it said to be careful if you are nursing or pregnant. I wasn’t nursing or pregnant, but it creeped me out. Since why not take the best care of your body at all times? I think Neem interacts with your hormones in some way. My two cents.

    • Dhrupad gupta says:

      they say that about neem tea because when neem tea’s bitterness dissolve with your milk for nourishing and the food while you are pregnant … taste bad to children……while it occur 1 from 25 baby that causes baby get less food that’s all but there is never ever hormones disturbance…….

  29. Jayadeep Purushothaman says:

    What about using your own fingers instead of anything – may be you can use some ayurvedic recipes as paste! That is also popular in this part of the world(india)

  30. Tracey says:

    It turns out that one of my local herb sores carries neem sticks for $8 a pound
    Neem Sticks, 1 lb.
    Price: $8.00
    and licorice root
    Licorice Root Sticks, Sticks One Pound $16.00
    The minimum order is $25, but if anyone can’t get them where they are, I’ll be happy to pick up and mail you some at cost.

    • Dhrupad gupta says:

      why to go evey month to store WHY? pluck it nearby tree……what the problem…..are you sick of store-eopath…….

  31. Tracey says:

    I found a Facebook Group recipe for licorice root.

  32. Tracey says:

    I have used licorice root in the past.
    I think I’l try it again! It’s more local in any case.

    Regarding how well it works, tooth decay used to be much much much less frequent. Yes, LESS frequent. Blame processed foods for this, but don’t knock the dental improvement to be had by drinking water, eating whole unprocessed foods and chewing on sticks for tooth brushing!

  33. Tiger says:

    If you do enjoy the tatse of licorice then chewing on the root can be enjoyable if not down right addictive! I keep mine in its own little bag and chew on it after meals.
    ok upside:
    tatses great
    licorice is beneficial to the adrenals
    it also reduces sugar cravings!
    it possibly keeps your teeth cleaner in general if you do it throughout the day?
    it good for us folk who quit smoking and enjoy an oral substitute

    ok now downside;
    it tastes like licorice! bad for those who don’t enjoy this (crazy people)
    you need to be ok with people thinking you are smoking a cigar if you do it in public
    sometimes its not easy to get them
    its one of those things that it out of your ordinary routine…in other words you have to have some discipline otherwise its easier just loading up a toothbrush cause thats just what we’re so used to

    talking about toothpaste, are there any non-plastic packaging alternatives for my licorice off-weeks?

  34. Clif says:

    I’m leery of anything said to have been used for centuries in the past – simply because people didn’t live that long ten and, in the case of teeth, those who lived the longest usually were toothless at the end. People made do with the best thing they could come up with, usually by finding it in situ nearby. That’s a far cry from the results of research.

    That said – the two most important things for tooth care are flossing and fluoride. But to look at the shelves in the store, with so many varieties of supposed “heatlhcare” products for the mouth you’d think you need to spend your life in the bathroom to keep your teeth in shape!

  35. sudha says:

    my grandparents were used to neem sticks…and all plucked from our backyard..:)..and they used to say that the sour/bitter juice oozing out of thestick was an amazing anti oxidant…and we as kids dint love it but took their word

  36. Amanda says:

    …aaand it looks like I’m going to have to search for this stuff in my local health food stores because I would have to get the required paperwork and fees to import them into Canada. :/

  37. Amanda says:

    In my Norse reenactment group some of us use licorice root in the same way. Personally I don’t chew off so much at a time. I only chew about half a centimeter to a centimeter to use as bristles. Only just enough to make them useful but still firm enough to hold some shape.
    And I don’t like the taste of licorice… I might cheat and try this stuff.

  38. Rebecca says:

    Funny that you should post this at a time when I´m a few weeks into my (so far) successfull miswak experiment…

    I can second the account of how it takes longer to brush your teeth with a “stick”. However, that´s not a reason for me to stop doing it – on the contrary, I find that I´m giving the same attention to all areas of my mouth this way, instead of chronically neglecting some spots like I used to. The beaty of miswak (and neem, I guess) is that it doesn´t require toothpaste so I don´t have to brush in front of a sink – instead, I just do it while reading the paper or checking my e-mail or something, so the longer time spent on brushing doesn´t bother me.

    What DOES bother me, however, is that I haven´t found miswak NOT individually wrapped in plastic so far. At least not in any shop that allows me to order from Germany without any additional fuss. I´ll have to research neem. Or else I´m going to try buying some miswak in bulk while visiting Egypt and then freezing part of it like you suggested for the neem sticks.

    One last thing, not really eco-related: since I´m studying Islamic Studies (not a muslim myself, but studynig Islam in an academic way), I´d like to point out that the quote at the beginning of your video isn´t a koranic quote… instead, it´s something reported of the Prophed Muhammad´s behaviour, which means (in this case) that some people consider it beneficial to follow this example, but it´s not strictly a rule.

  39. Jay Sinha says:

    Beth, your teeth-sculpted neem brush is a work of art! Thanks for sharing your experience with us all.

  40. Riley says:

    Neem doesn’t look like it would work for me, either.

    However, re: carbonating wine. In researching carbonation I considered Soda Stream, but it seemed too wasteful and too proprietary. Finally, I just bought a 20 lb CO2 bottle, a regulator ($100 for both, used), some plastic tubing (initially vinyl–opps. Replaced with HDPE icemaker tubing.), misc connectors, a stainless steel tire valve, and a couple 2 liter plastic soda bottles. Didn’t try to go plastic free, and don’t see an easy, safe way to do so now. However, those 2 bottles are the last bottles I’ve purchased for maybe a year. They are PET, I’d like to replace them eventually with foodgrade, heavy duty PE or PP for a permanent solution.

    Put cold, filtered water in the bottle, put on the cap with the tire valve, turn on the regulator and shake for 30 secs at 50 psi. Even get a little exercise. CO2 refills (once in a year so far) are $6. (I’m lucky, probably closer to $25 most parts.) Bottle or so a day. Put anything in it. Not my website.

  41. monkeyjen says:

    I found you this recipe/alternative to try!
    Sage tooth whitening scrub
    Gervase Markham, The English Housewife. 1615

    “For teeth that are yellow:

    Take sage and salt, of each alike, and stamp them well together, then bake till it be hard, and make a fine powder thereof, then therewith rub the teeth evening and morning and it will take away all yellowness.”

    For more info:

  42. Kathy says:

    Beth, you are so hard core! It’s a great concept, though I haven’t heard a great deal about how great people’s teeth are that use them. I am not so hard core… I think the amount of plastic used at the next dental visit to correct the damage from my not brushing with a regular toothbrush might counter act the impact of the idea. I’m curious to know if others have had success. It looks a bit more time consuming than I have patience for haha

    • Dhrupad gupta says:

      its not time consuming i again say but try it i don’t
       change any tooth brush any more just pluck stick and dont go for dentist for enamelbut it do’sent mean you don’t ever go to dentist….i go for tooth aliment…hahaha