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Andreana Bitsis

We Tried It: Licorice “Chew Sticks” for Glowing White Teeth

On a recent trip to Africa, I visited a medicinal garden in which I learned that indigenous peoples of the Nama and San bushmen tribes used branches from the licorice tree (Glycyrrhiza glabra) as a form of natural toothbrush.

As someone who is really interested in non-invasive dental care (I’m a big fan of oil-pulling and tooth soap), I was eager to try this– and a subsequent Google search revealed that there’s actually a large body of research to support using licorice chew sticks as part of a healthy dental routine.

“African Chew Sticks have antibacterial properties that help prevent gum disease, sooth tooth aches, and freshen breath– they also function beautifully as ‘unusual’ decor…”

Lots of people in the Western world use licorice chew sticks as an alternative to fluoride toothpaste, and with good reason: African Chew sticks have antibacterial properties that help prevent gum disease, sooth tooth aches, and freshen breath– they also function beautifully as “unusual” decor (just throw them in a jar with some dried flowers– it’s an easy way to add plant life to any bathroom).

Licorice Chew

Andreana Bitsis

The trick works particularly well after a meal, as chewing on the stick releases beneficial anti-microbials that prevent plaque buildup while the licorice flavor aids digestion. The chewing action helps stimulate the salivary glands to prevent tartar aggregation, and the abrasiveness of the stick helps trap and remove particulate matter. Licorice itself has an anti-inflammatory capacity, as well, which is why it’s widely used as a blood pressure supplement in folk medicine. (In Traditional Chinese medicine, for example, licorice is believed to “harmonize” nutrients in the body; in Ayurveda, the plant is used for rejuvenation.)

You have to like the flavor of licorice, to enjoy using African Chew Sticks, though– otherwise this will be a miserable experience for you. Using licorice sticks is sort of like a dog chewing on a chew toy– or a cowboy gnawing on a very large toothpick. For best results, suck on the stick while absent-mindedly chewing on it for about 10 minutes, taking care to switch the stick back and forth between each side of your mouth. When you’re done (I like to do this while answering emails,) simply gargle with salt water and you’re good to go!

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