With Ramadan around the corner and preparations in full swing, most of us have mentally drafted spiritual, physical or social checklists; be it the number of juz we wish to memorize, the charity organisation we want to be part of, the number of kilos to shed, or even how many samosas to unsuccessfully stop at. Yet, we tend to overlook one of the most important and highly affected aspects of health: oral hygiene.
Indeed one faces hunger pangs, but the mouth bears the brunt as well. This is often manifested as dry mouth, bad breath, gum disease, increased plaque build-up, tooth decay, aggravated effects of smoking, skipped dental procedures etc.
So here’s a quick Q&A guide on maintaining oral hygiene in this blessed month.
Q1. Bad breath while fasting leaves me embarrassed especially when my non-Muslim friends point it out. How do I get rid of it?
Chronic bad breath is medically known as Halitosis- an unpleasant odour exhaled through the mouth. Bad breath can leave you embarrassed in social or intimate settings and lead to low self-esteem and anxiety. It is also the 3rd most common reason for patients to visit a dentist.
Major cause: During fasting hours, lack of water consumption and reduced salivary flow causes bacterial build-up and increase in concentration of sulphur containing compounds, all leading to malodour.
How to avoid it:
- Practice excellent oral hygiene to efficiently eliminate plaque. Incorporate the use of miswak (the chewing stick) in your routine.
- Have plenty of fluids during the non-fasting hours: approx. 2-3 glasses of water at iftar to freshen your mouth, and multiply consumption of soups, juices and fresh fruits such as watermelon, musk melon and strawberries to remain hydrated.
- Rinse your mouth with water during fasting hours, taking care not to swallow it.
- Cut down on caffeine (coffee, tea and sodas further dehydrate your body) and smoking.
- Medications like antihistamines and antihypertensives also cause bad breath. Patients receiving medications for treating systemic diseases should speak to their GP before commencing Ramadan to ensure their fasts will not affect the efficacy and use of their medications.
- Denture wearers should clean their dentures on a daily basis. Improper fit leads to food lodgement and subsequent bad breath. Wash them regularly and allow them to be moist while seating the dentures in the mouth to keep your gums hydrated and reduce ulceration.
Although some Muslims are overly-conscious about eliminating this “Ramadan breath”, it is only justifiable to remember that at the end of the day, we fast to seek His mercy and pleasure.
Abu Hurairah reported Allah’s Messenger ﷺ as saying:
قَالَ اللَّهُ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ كُلُّ عَمَلِ ابْنِ آدَمَ لَهُ إِلاَّ الصِّيَامَ هُوَ لِي وَأَنَا أَجْزِي بِهِ فَوَالَّذِي نَفْسُ مُحَمَّدٍ بِيَدِهِ لَخِلْفَةُ فَمِ الصَّائِمِ أَطْيَبُ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ مِنْ رِيحِ الْمِسْكِ
Allah, the Majestic and the Exalted, said: Every act of the son of Adam is for him except fasting. It is done for My sake, and I will give a reward for it. By Allah in Whose Hand is the life of Muhammad, the breath of the observer of fast is sweeter to Allah than the fragrance of musk.
Q2. What are some excellent oral hygiene tips specifically for Ramadan?
Consuming richer food during Ramadan would mean paying more attention to your teeth.
- Brush thoroughly with a fluoride toothpaste after meals, specifically post-dinner and post-suhoor. This is particularly important for youngsters who tend to eat sticky sweets.
- During the non-fasting hours, include flossing, an alcohol-free mouthwash and tongue scraping in your dental routine. Flossing aids in cleaning up the food remnants between the teeth that are difficult to reach by the brush, while mouthwash washes away the bacteria and leaves a fresher breath. (Do not use mouthwash immediately after brushing as the effects are nullified)
- During fasting hours, you can “dry brush” without using toothpaste to lose the plaque and rinse with water.
- Chewing sugar-free gum is an easy and convenient way to increase saliva production and not cause cavities like other sugar gums.
Q3. What food should be avoided for dental hygiene in Ramadan?
- Consumption of carbohydrate-rich, sugary, sticky or acidic food is multiplied during Ramadan. Sugar or starch items dissolve the protective enamel of the tooth, leading to tooth decay. Sticky food like toffees and cream biscuits dissolve very slowly offering an excellent breeding ground for bacteria and acids.
- Onions, garlic and some spices cause bad breath on consumption. Higher volumes of smelly gases are released when the bacteria decomposes meat or fish. Make sure to clean bits of meat stuck between your teeth and rinse that garlic smell off before going to the mosque.
TIP: Aim to keep your meals healthy. Switch to increased fruits, vegetables, proteins and nuts as the antioxidants in these strengthen the body’s ability to fight bacteria and inflammation, which can help protect the teeth and gums.
Follow the Islamic practice of eating: Fill your stomach with 1/3 food, 1/3 liquid and 1/3 air.
Q4. Why is Ramadan the best time to quit smoking?
Smoke particles in the throat and lungs leave a lingering stale scent for hours contributing directly to bad breath. The smoke particles in the mouth cause dryness and reduced salivary flow rate which is why smokers are more likely to suffer from gum diseases. During Ramadan, Muslims who are smokers abstain from smoking during fasting, but most tend to smoke after iftar which contributes to worsening their breath. Smokers should take a strict call upon smoking cessation during Ramadan and the rest of the year too, by reaching out to their GPs, dentists or close companions to give up this habit once and for all.
Q5. What are the permitted dental procedures during Ramadan?
Sheikh Abd al-Azeez ibn Baaz (May Allah have mercy on him) permitted scaling (or cleaning), restorations (or fillings), extractions (or teeth removal) and usage of local oral anesthesia during fasting. But one has to be careful not to swallow any medicine or blood. Similarly, the injection does not affect the validity of the fast because it is not a kind of food or drink, and the basic principle is that his fast is valid. [Ajwabah Muhimmah tata’allaq bi Arkaan al-Islam].
TIP: It is preferable if one can go to the dentist in the evening. It is also best to re-schedule or delay treatments especially if there is no acute pain/discomfort.
Q6. What is the correlation between the use of miswak and dental hygiene in Ramadan?
The miswak, besides its medicinal properties, is also highly recommended in Islam.
Aishah رضي الله عنها reported: The Prophet ﷺ said,
السواك مطهرة للفم مرضاة للرب
“The Miswak (tooth-stick) cleanses and purifies the mouth and pleases the Rubb.””
[An-Nasa’i and Ibn Khuzaimah]
According to a research conducted by the Riyadh-based King Saud University (KSU), a total of 19 natural substances were found in miswak that benefit dental health. It contains:
– natural antiseptics that kill harmful micro-organisms in the mouth
– tannic acids that protect from gum disease
– aromatic oils that increase salivation
– ingredients that prevent cavities, teeth colouring, gum bleeding, mouth cancer and putrefaction, and soothe toothaches
Its importance is so paramount, such that the Prophet ﷺ said,
لولا أن أشق على أمتي – أو على الناس- لأمرتهم بالسواك مع كل صلاة
“Were it not that I might overburden my followers, I would’ve commanded them to use the miswak before every prayer.”
[Bukhari and Muslim]
Maintaining oral hygiene is mustahabb (recommended) and being careful about hygiene and cleanliness is part of Imaan. The Prophet ﷺ paid particular attention to cleaning the mouth especially before Salah, reading Qur’an and during wudhu. Also,
“Four things are from the practices of the Prophets: the feeling of modesty (chastity), scent, cleaning the teeth and marriage” (Tirmidhi)
So from today, make a strong intention to keep a check on those pearly whites and flash them too, cause Sunnah!