Ramadan and Oral Health

Salam waelekum. Please excuse my absence. A lot has changed over the last year. Good change i might add. Alhamdulilah for all the blessings in my life. A few days ago i got an email about how to combat that familiar mouth odor that comes with the fast. Many people including myself up until a few days ago avoided brushing during the day in Ramadan. I am so glad i got that email because it made me realize that is a mistake, since there is no contradiction between observing the fast and brushing one's teeth. Moreover, Allah's Messenger (SAW) said: “Were it not for the hardship that I would be placing upon my people, I would have ordered them to engage in siwâk for every prayer.” [Sahîh al-Bukhârî (887) and Sahîh Muslim (252)]

We must understand that the word “siwâk” does not just refer to the tree branches that are used as tooth sticks, but to the act of brushing the teeth itself. It is derived from the verb sâk, meaning to rub, clean, buff, or polish. [Tarh al-Tathrîb (2/63)]

Regarding the question of what can be used for brushing the teeth, Ibn `Abd al-Barr writes: “The siwâk of the people had been from the arâk and bashâm trees. Anything that polishes the teeth without harming them and sweetens the taste of the mouth is permitted for the purpose of brushing the teeth.” [al-Istidhkâr (3/272)]

It is permitted to brush one's teeth at any time during the day while fasting in Ramadan. As for the hadîth that reads: “When you fast, brush your teeth in the mornings, but do not brush your teeth in the afternoon.” – i found this out to be an extremely weak hadîth. It is related in Sunan al-Bayhaqî, Sunan al-Daraqutnî, and quite a few other sources. Its chain of transmission is too weak to allow it to be used as evidence.

Therefore, the ruling regarding brushing the teeth in Ramadan remains general. It is encouraged at all times. This ruling is evident in the hadîth mentioned above as well as in the hadîth: “Were it not for the hardship that I would be placing upon my people, I would have ordered them to engage in siwâk every time they perform wudû'.” This means that it is recommended to brush one's teeth after every wudû' and for every prayer, regardless of whether one is fasting or not, and regardless of whether it is in the morning of Ramadan or the afternoon. The Zuhr and `Asr prayers are include in this general ruling just as the Fajr, Maghrib, an `Ishâ' prayers are included.

In fact, there are six occasions where brushing the teeth is actually recommended:

1. It is recommended before each prayer. 2. It is recommended for every wudû'. 3. It is recommended when reciting the Qur'ân. The following is related by `Alî . Abî Tâlib and others: "Indeed, your mouths are pathways fro the Qur'ân, so make those pathways agreeable with siwâk." [Sunan Ibn Mâjah (291) but with a weak 4. It is recommended upon entering the home. The father of al-Miqdâm b. Shurayh had asked `Aishah: "What was the first thing that the Prophet (SAW) used to do when he entered the house?" She replied that he would brush his teeth. [Sahîh Muslim (253)] 5. It s recommended when a person has bad breath. The Prophet (SAW) said: "Siwâk cleanses the mouth and pleases the Lord." [Sunan al-Nisâ'î, (5), Musnad Ahmad (6/47) and Sunan al-Dârimî (684)] 6. It is recommended upon waking from sleep. Hudhayfah relates that when the Prophet (SAW) got up at night, he would brush his teeth with a toothstick." [Sahîh al-Bukhârî and Sahîh Muslim]

It is recommended for a Muslim to brush his or her teeth on these occasions whether or not he or she is fasting.

Some people assume that brushing the teeth while fasting is discouraged on the basis of another hadîth where the Prophet (SAW) said: “I swear by Him in whose hand is my soul, the khalûf of a fasting person is more pleasant to Allah than the scent of musk.” [Sahîh al-Bukhârî (1893) and Sahîh Muslim (1151)]

The assumption that this hadîth discourages brushing one's teeth while fasting is incorrect for two reasons:

1. The khalûf is the smell that comes from the stomach when it is empty of food and is not a smell emanating from the mouth.

2. Many scholars explain that the pleasantness of this khalûf for Allah on the Day of Judgment, as indicated by the narration of the hadîth in Sahîh Muslim: “I swear by Him in whose hand is my soul, the khalûf of a fasting person is more pleasant to Allah on the Day of Judgment than the scent of musk.” It does not relate to the affairs of this world, so brushing the teeth will have no affect on it. If anything, brushing the teeth will provide an additional dimension of pleasantness, since it is in itself something pleasing to Allah. It is something Allah enjoined upon the Muslim's through the words of His Messenger (peace be upon him).

As for any remnants of the tooth stick that may remain in the mouth of the fasting person, these should simply be removed as best as possible. The fasting person should not allow suspicions and misgivings about it to worry him. Many people go to excesses in this matter and impose upon themselves unnecessary hardships. For instance, some people go to extremes in removing what remains in their mouths after brushing their teeth or in removing the food that remains in their mouths in the morning from their pre-fasting meals. There are those who find great difficulty in inhaling water and rinsing their mouths when performing wudû'. Worse still, there are some fasting people who go to the extreme of spitting out their saliva, thereby subject themselves to a considerable degree of suffering.

All of these are difficulties and constraints that Allah has spared the Muslims from. Allah says: "Allah does not burden any soul with more than it can bear. It gets every good that it earns, and it suffers every ill that it earns.

(Pray): Our Lord! Condemn us not if we forget or fall into error; our Lord! Do not place on us a burden like that which You placed on those before us." [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 286]

Allah has removed from us the burdens that He had existed for the communities of faith that came before. Therefore, it behooves us to keep things easy for ourselves and for those around us in these matters.

Engaging in siwâk brings many benefits. It cleans and refreshes the mouth. It reduces phlegm. It eases the stomach and facilitates digestion. It improves the voice. It invigorates a person for the reading of the Qur'ân and for remembrance and prayer. Most importantly, it pleases our Lord. It brings joy to the angels and adds blessings to our deeds.

But most people would say we agree with the Miswak but not in using a toothbrush with toothpaste. Since this is a modern innovation and was not available in the days of the Prophet (SAW) most people shy away from it. But it is deemed makrooh but still allowed. Lots of care is involved so as to not swallow the paste for example. The same applies to mouthwashes. It's permissible but should be avoided if it can.

Good hygiene is sunnah. We should not forget that.