Miraa chewers in Meru county are displeased with a KDF officer's warning that chewing the substance leaves teeth discoloured.
A Lieutenant Colonel in Lamu West said this on Monday during the military's recruitment when many were turned away for having stained teeth.
The Nyambene Miraa Traders Association has complained about the "unsubstantiated" views and demanded that Kenya Defence Forces "fully recant it".
Sakijo Munjuri, chairman of the association (Nyamita), noted those who turned up for the recruitment had been taking Mombasa's salt water which contains fluorides.
"There is no scientific basis [for the warning] and it is not based on real life experiences among miraa chewers," he said, and termed the remarks "unfortunate and very detrimental".
"People take soft drinks like Coca-Cola, eat sweets and smoke many other substances. Teeth discolouration should not be attributed to miraa chewing. The officer's comments are most unfortunate. We want KDF to cite the genesis of the statement or recant it because I doubt whether people were asked what they chew or ingest."
Adding that the sentiments amounted to profiling, the chairman said: "Going on air with such unsubstantiated claims is far below what we expect from our disciplined forces.
"The recruitment is an ongoing exercise ... we wouldn't want anybody denied the opportunity to join the Armed Forces because of the assumption that they chew Miraa. That will be a very unfortunate occurrence. We don't want the army to start profiling people."
A 2015 research by Moi University found that tooth problems such as discolouration arise from chewing miraa with other substances and factors such as dental hygiene.
In 2010, the Dental Research Journal reported that non-chewers have better oral hygiene than chewers.
It cited gingival bleeding and recession, difficulties in opening the mouth and swallowing food, a burning sensation in the soft tissues and ulcers on the oral mucosa.
Munjuri further said that the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) carried out a four-month research in Meru county and did not find anything that linked tooth decay, discolouration of teeth and dental diseases to chewing miraa.
He said the institute emphasised the distinction between miraa chewing and the consumption of other substances in the process..
"We have shared our sentiments with the KDF via their Twitter handle and we are hoping they are going to clarify. We are not going to leave this alone," he told The Star by phone on Tuesday.
"If they don't reply by tomorrow, we will write to them officially and seek clarification of how this arose. We want this attended to as fast as possible."
But Munjuri thanked the military for stabilising Somalia which is a major miraa market.
In July 2017, the Health ministry reported that miraa can be harmful when abused.
The ministry said when chewed over several hours, khat can trigger effects such as elevated or lowered blood pressure, sweating or chills, nausea or vomiting and weight loss.
Minister Cleopa Mailu said there was no contradiction between the ministry’s stand and that of Kemri, which reportedly gave miraa a clean bill of health in February. Kemri scientists had indicated they could not prove miraa was harmful to the body.
Munjuri's sentiments were echoed by Miraa trader and chewer Ismael Mwenda, 52, who said there was no proof it causes teeth to be stained.
The man noted his 40 years' experience in the trade and that his teeth got discoloured when he was 12 years old, an age at which he had not started chewing miraa.
"There must be other health problems," he said in Meru town yesterday.
Police recruitments always stick to the age-old tradition of locking out candidates with missing or discoloured teeth, squint eyes, narrow chests and flat feet.
The features are listed in the police recruitment manual issued to the recruiting officers.
In April 2015, a senior officer explained that candidates with missing and discoloured teeth are assumed to have weak bones and will have challenges during training.