Umar Ahmed flashes pearly white tooth at any time when he smiles.
Rising up in Somalia, Umar didn’t go to the dentist. He brushed his tooth with a miswak twig, a fats stick roughly the size of a plastic toothbrush. The twigs develop on Salvadora persica bushes native to India, the Center East, and Africa which might be generally often known as toothbrush bushes.
When Umar moved to america at age 16, dentists complimented his excellent tooth.
“Every time I am going to the dentist, they are saying, ‘Hey, Umar, your gums are wholesome and the whole lot appears to be like high-quality. What do you employ to brush your tooth?’ And I say, ‘Solely miswak,’ ” stated Umar, 41, who nonetheless makes use of miswak.
After Umar graduated from Metro State College with a level in economics, he went to work in company America, although he was an entrepreneur at coronary heart.
Over the course of working at United Well being Group, Specific Scripts, and Wells Fargo, Umar talked to his colleagues about utilizing miswak sticks, and was stunned by how intrigued they have been. He realized he had the seed for a future enterprise.
Umar additionally discovered so much in regards to the dangerous results of plastic on the atmosphere. Most moldable toothbrushes can’t be recycled as a result of their parts don’t break down simply and a few small components get caught in equipment.
May one thing like biodegradable, pure miswak sticks clear up the issue of an estimated billion plastic toothbrushes touchdown in U.S. landfills yearly, he puzzled?
“I feel it’s time to do one thing about that concept,” Umar advised himself in 2016. “Issues we use each single day damage our surroundings. And this product I learn about can grow to be one thing extra pure like a bamboo toothbrush.”
Till DuPont launched nylon in 1938, many of the world took care of their oral well being with miswak sticks or twigs from different shrubs or bushes. Solely the rich might afford toothbrushes comprised of boar bristles and bone. At this time, many individuals world wide–together with immigrants to Minnesota–proceed to make use of miswak twigs, that are available on the market at East African markets for $1 every.
Recognizing that miswak won’t enchantment to individuals accustomed to plastic toothbrushes, Umar selected bamboo to create a prototype toothbrush that he hoped could possibly be utterly compostable.
Turning twigs right into a well being firm
Umar formally launched Twiggy Contemporary in 2018, a line of eco-friendly oral well being merchandise that initially included miswak. The miswak merchandise have been ultimately phased out in favor of bamboo toothbrushes.
The product lineup now focuses on bamboo toothbrushes designed to be composted each three to 4 months, dental floss comprised of corn and silk, a chrome steel tongue scraper, and even a bamboo-based electrical toothbrush. (The bottom of the electrical toothbrush is just not compostable.)
Umar knew bamboo–a kind of grass–was an environmentally sound alternative as a result of it grows shortly. Discovering a fabric for the bristles was trickier, and the early Twiggy Contemporary fashions used nylon. Since then, he’s switched to nylon-like bristles comprised of castor oil beans, that are biodegradable .
“The principle thought is that we’re taking small steps and changing into extra conscious about what we use each single day,” stated Umar, noting analysis that means that most individuals use 300 toothbrushes in a lifetime.
Initially, Umar bought the toothbrushes in a shared skyway house close to the IDS Heart in downtown Minneapolis. He has additionally hawked his merchandise at commerce reveals and particularly loves telling youngsters about Twiggy Contemporary.
“One time at [Midtown] International Market, a bit lady about 8 or 9 years previous got here again to me after I’d proven her the toothbrushes,” Umar stated. “She had been considering extra about it, and she or he stated, ‘Hey, if we minimize a number of bamboo down, what is going to occur to the pandas?’ ”
Though the kids’s model of Twiggy Contemporary toothbrushes function pandas on the packages, Umar assured her that pandas don’t eat the number of bamboo he makes use of.
‘We don’t see a number of minority-owned companies represented on the cabinets.’
Publish-pandemic, Umar received a short lived spot on the Mall of America’s Group Commons, a retail house for companies impacted by civil unrest following the 2020 homicide of George Floyd. His stint there resulted in 2021. Umar sells Twiggy Contemporary on-line, and is crowdfunding to rent employees to assist with gross sales and advertising.
“I’ve the inspiration,” stated Umar, who’s at the moment operating the Minnesota-based enterprise from Dallas, Texas, whereas working different part-time jobs. “However to go from right here to massive retail shops is just not simple.
“I take my youngsters to Goal,” he added, “and we don’t see a number of minority-owned companies represented on the cabinets. We convey some huge cash to the retail enterprise, however there’s a possibility hole that exists within the market. I’m not glad to simply be a client; I need to be a part of individuals creating wealth.”
Some research present that miswak sticks might have oral well being advantages, particularly in decreasing plaque, since miswak incorporates antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties, in response to a 2015 review in Saudi Medical Journal. However the American Dental Affiliation solely recommends brushes with bristles.
Sahan Journal requested Dr. Helen Kim what she recommends to sufferers. Not everybody arriving in Minnesota has tooth as wholesome as Umar’s, stated Kim, a physician of dental surgical procedure and dental director of Individuals’s Heart Clinics and Companies, which serves many African immigrants.
“I do see some damages from utilizing [miswak], as a result of it’s not moving into between the tooth properly, and I see a number of stains on tooth,” she stated. “That will also be a fluoride situation,” she added, as a result of faucet water in some locations isn’t correctly supplemented with fluoride.
One other potential concern about utilizing twigs, she stated, is that micro organism can develop extra simply on natural materials. They’re additionally not simple to sanitize. Miswak twigs at Minneapolis’ Karmel Mall are bought in plastic packaging with instructions to rinse and retailer the sticks within the wrapper in a cool, dry place.
“I encourage my sufferers to have an electrical toothbrush,” Kim stated, including that these implements are extra environment friendly than guide brushes.
A bamboo brush like Twiggy Contemporary, and particularly the road’s electrical choice, Kim stated, “is a very good” thought. “It takes all people’s efforts to maintain the earth clear and good for the subsequent era,” she stated. “However no matter toothbrush you may have, in the event you don’t use it properly, it doesn’t work! Study the approach on methods to use it properly, and brush at the very least twice a day.”
Kim brushes thrice a day.
Umar not makes use of solely a miswak twig. He’s fortunate, he stated, to decide on amongst miswak and numerous Twiggy Contemporary brushes every time he brushes. His three youngsters? They’re intrigued by miswak, however use Twiggy Contemporary brushes.