Esther Nduta, A Form Four student unveil secret in Sodom apple roots
Esther Nduta, a 17-year-old Form Four student grew up watching her grandmother, who is now approaching 90, brush her teeth using the roots of the wild Sodom apple.
“She would chew one end to make it fibrous and use it to brush her teeth after every meal. What fascinates me most is that despite her continued avoidance of conventional toothpastes and brushes, her teeth remain healthy and strong. At her age, she still eats githeri,” said Nduta, who set out to find out the secret in the roots of the Sodom apple.
With assistance from Morris Mburu, her biology teacher, and the school’s laboratory, she tested the properties of the plant’s roots.
Mr Mburu promised that if the plant had compounds that would kill oral bacteria, Nduta could enroll for the inaugural Young Scientist Kenya exhibition that was held in Nairobi earlier this month.
Nduta collaborated with her friend and classmate Lydiah Njeri.
After four months, they produced an organic antimicrobial mouthwash along with organic tooth-cleaning sticks using fibrous ends of bamboo sticks and sisal or cotton wrapped on flat bamboo pieces as tongue scrapers.
For the mouthwash, they boiled the roots of the Sodom apple to extract the chemical compounds, which tested positive for sapoline (an organic substance that acts like a surface tension breaker in the same way that detergents work to clean dirt from clothes).
They added acidified potassium permanganate to test for unsaturated organic compounds and the compound tested positive.
This meant that the mouthwash would kill the microorganisms that affect oral hygiene, causing foul breathe or leading to diseases like dental caries, tooth decay and gum disease.
“We then added 10 per cent ginger powder to the liquid and 10 per cent menthol grass powder to give it a pleasant flavour. For colour we had the option of adding turmeric powder or beetroot powder,” said Njeri.
They filtered the solution and precipitated the starch using ethanol. The solution was then left to decant for 18 hours and sterilised before being packaged in clear bottles.
They then put the mouthwash to the test on 18 schoolmates, and got a thumbs up (only two got mild allergic reactions).
During their presentations, they argued that their product was better than commercial toothpaste and mouthwash because it does not have fluoride and other inorganic chemicals. They emerged best in the biology and ecological sciences category.