Datun, Daant and Dandaasa

  • By J Y Yakhmi
  • December 28, 2021
  • Use of a datun not only offers good oral hygiene, but also does the job of both, a toothbrush and a toothpaste.

A Neem datun is antibacterial, too. Datuns being bio-degradable, their use does not cause environmental pollution, unlike the plastic-based toothbrushes and the toothpaste-carrying polymer tubes.


In the early mornings of the 1950s, the head of a family in our neighbourhood, would carry a device called daant in Punjabi, to cut a branch or two of Neem trees. This device is essentially a bamboo pole, a stick, about 3 metres long, to the top end of which is riveted a sharp, semi-circular inverse U-shaped steel strip. Using it, he could reach and cut soft branches as high as 5 metres, or so. To do that, he would stand just below a chosen Neem branch, raise the top edge of his daant and cut the branch with a jerk. Using a knife, he would remove the leaves from the branch that fell to the ground, and cut it into about 20cm-long pieces, which served as datuns for his family members to brush their teeth with.


Article was first published in Bhavan’s Journal, Mumbai.


Spending Rs. 1.25 for a toothbrush and another Rs. 2 for a toothpaste tube was considered a luxury those days, and nearly everyone used a datun as a ‘chew stick’ instead, shaping it into a thin twig with a frayed end, while chewing it and rubbing it against one’s teeth and gums, simultaneously.


Another tree twig which serves as a toothbrush is the ‘Kikar’. Also called Babool, the Kikar (Vachellia Nilotica orAcacia Nilotica) is a small thorny tree, a weed, which grows even in semi-arid lands, to a height of about 8-10 meters. One end of the twig is chewed on after removing its thorns and leaves, until the chewed end is converted into fine bristles. Thereafter, these bristles are used to rub over the teeth till they are clean and then the datun is discarded. A quick mouth-wash with water, and it would complete the whole brushing process.


And, of course the job was done as well as it would have been after the use of any commercial toothbrush and toothpaste. After all, the basic features of a toothbrush are a handle to grip, and bristles with which to clean the teeth.


Teeth cleaning twigs made from branches of the tropical evergreen tree, Neem (Azadirachta Indica) have been used by Indians for ages. A Neem twig is also anti-bacterial. Raw chew-sticks of Neem are still sold in small towns, and are cheap.


Dandaasa (Juglans Regia), the bark of the walnut tree, peeled when green and dried is also used to clean the teeth. Incidentally, the use of Dandaasa gives a light pink coloration to the lips temporarily.


Natural bristles were the only device used to clean the teeth until DuPont produced a toothbrush with nylon bristles. A tooth-brush and a fountain pen were possibly the first-ever non-biodegradable plastic consumer items introduced by the industry, somewhere in the middle of the 20th century.


Notwithstanding the convenience of using commercial toothbrushes and pastes, Indians, for centuries, have patronised herbal tooth powders (manjan) and pastes. No wonder, herbal/ayurvedic dental pastes/ powders continue to be marketed by several companies. We have created a Neem toothpaste, a Babool toothpaste, and even a toothpaste containing clove oil, in keeping with our traditions, old and new.



This article was first published in the Bhavan’s Journal, 30 November 2021 issue. This article is courtesy and copyright Bhavan’s Journal, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai-400007. eSamskriti has obtained permission from Bhavan’s Journal to share.


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