Why tribal toothpaste could give you the last (sparkly) laugh, all the way to the dentist

So experiments always need to be worked out. It doesn’t matter if they turn out to be successful or not. And there is something surreal about being closer to areas which you’ve never experienced before - in my case, a semi-rural place.

So when our Women Friday and I were chatting about some things, I chanced upon a moment of epiphany - toothpaste.

Now, please understand. From the age of six, I’ve been gleefully called a dentist’s delight. And in the most non-complimentary manner possible. Yes folks, decades later, the moniker still stands true as my twentieth something dentist would vouch. I am still the most delightful thing that walks into any dentist’s dungeon.

You can only imagine the delight at the possibility of discovering an almost-lost secret at putting my woes to an end - tribal toothpaste.

A not-so-distant dream

I truly believe that our natives are rich with the age-old wisdom which nurtures life. Many of our modern practices are taking a U-turn back to our roots - kowtowing to ancient wisdom. Some of my encounters with native culture seem to be sharing just that.

However, of course, the covert blend of skepticism, adventure and glee come in. As my Woman Friday narrated the ingredients in the tribal toothpaste, my eyes grew larger with wonder and possibilities. Images of pearly whites flashed before my eyes. I imagined the impossible would happen - my pseudo white teeth would finally look five shades fairer. I pictured my dentist fainting at this sight … my personal Oscar moment.

Beginning the journey

After two futile reminders, my harassed Woman Friday realized that she better relent to my demands. Her mother-in-law (who made the secret ingredient) showed up at her house at 5 am with a little paper package that could have resembled anything. The Woman Friday’s daughter ceremoniously scorned at me: as if she knows how to use a finger to clean her teeth.

As I pounced on the packet with both hands, I gamely declared that I would scrub this powder with my bare fingers. And it's not as dramatic as it sounds - remember all those trips where I’ve packed every single item, ready for all contingencies - except for the godforsaken toothbrush?

So here we were on day 1.
Day 1 - As I looked at the innocent black powder I wondered - would this give me heartburn? Would my pee turn black? Maybe my belch would give out black fumes in the air. I was young, but heavens! This could turn into an emergency.

Moreover… nothing happened. I could taste a bit of salt. I scrubbed my teeth with the powder till they squeaked in enthusiasm - yes, we’re in. However, enough for today. I relented, gurgled, and proceeded to examine every visible millimeter of my teeth. While my exploratory smiles started bordering on the hideous to a grimace and even, sinister - I didn’t get my answer. And yes, Rome was not built in a day.

A scientific approach

“There is no problem in this tribal toothpowder from an Ayurvedic perspective. Salt, after all, is an antibiotic. The tribals, too, have strong teeth and don’t seem to suffer from any side-effects. However, clinical testing is required.
Perhaps, in time, such natural mixtures could be introduced in urban areas as well. People are becoming aware of the side effects of some toothpastes, especially those high in fluoride content. However, I don’t think urban people would agree to use charcoal powder! Perhaps charcoal powder could be replaced with babool powder or powder from neem leaves.”
- Dr. Wadile, an Ayurvedic doctor from North Maharashtra. He has been practicing since the last 15-20 years and engages with tribal communities frequently.   

Dr. Payal Dande, Asst. Professor, Pharmacognosy, School of Pharmacy and Technology Management, seems to agree: Rigorous clinical trials need to be conducted to verify this mixture and label it as fit for consumption.

It struck me that years ago, Lila bhai (#guardianangel #househelpturnedfamily##auntfromanothergrandma) used to sit down with a similar looking powder, every day. Did my 12-year-old brain miss a possible chance at uncovering a secret! Did I inadvertently chance upon an ancient secret only to lose it, and perhaps rediscover it now?

What if...

Hopefully, time would tell. However, this got me thinking:
1. If this powder was packaged with an international brand, with a lovely story, even lovelier paper - would I have accepted this more easily? Would the trust issues that were creeping in disappear?  
2. If I was willing to try herbal peel-off masks, face scrubs and even try homemade lip scrubs, perhaps its time to pave the way for home-made tooth scrubs.
3.  This would be a far more eco-friendly product. Gone are the little tubes, enter little boxes with powder that can be easily replaced.
4. Will these age-old practices disappear as each generation is unable to cope with the physical effort and time required to create these products or simply because they want to ape new trends? Interestingly, my Woman Friday does not use this powder. She too believes in the promise that a toothpaste tube holds.

I don’t have any ready answers here, and there’s no time for judgments. I also know that sometimes the wisdom does not lie in the answers but instead in the questions.
Perhaps sharing trade secrete on herbal recipes could be too.

And in case you’re wondering:

1. My dentist did not give an unblinking take when he saw my pearls
2. I haven’t given up on toothpaste yet, but the powder is a feature on my bathroom shelf.
3. Here’s the recipe of the toothpowder:

  • Charcoal
  • Salt
  • Mint
  • Camphor

All ingredients are ground and carefully sieved.

Tastes fine, looks good, feels even better. Moreover, our hero with the secret ingredient - the grandmother - has all her teeth intact!

~ Resha Patel

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