The ancient technique of oil pulling has recently made a monumental comeback in organic health communities and beyond over the past several years. This method is rooted in Ayurvedic medicine, a traditional Hindu system that is focused on balancing the body that has been around for over three centuries. This technique has been seen on many blogs, celebrity social media pages, and even medical publications, but do all the health claims add up?
Oil pulling is the act of swishing a tablespoon of coconut, sesame, or sunflower oil in your mouth for about twenty minutes before spitting it out. It comes with promises of curing a variety of ailments but most profoundly, gingivitis, bad breath, and stained teeth. While these claims are lofty and not proven, dentists have agreed that oil pulling does have some benefits that are notable but overall, it’s not all that effective.
Oil Pulling cannot Replace Brushing and Flossing
While some claim that these oils can remove bacteria from teeth, the reality is that plaque needs to be manually removed by a hygienist. Think of this as washing a pot with some burnt-on food; you can’t just run water over it, you need to scrub it with a sponge! When you go in for a cleaning, the hygienist scrapes plaque from between and around your teeth using special tools to make sure it does not build up too much over time. Sources also claim that oil swishing can “reduce” plaque, which is different than removing plaque in a way that decreases chances of gum disease. Swishing oil for 20 minutes will reduce plaque as effectively as swishing water for the same amount of time, and that’s about the extent of any kind of “whitening” it can do for superficial stains. Both will slightly lessen the stickiness of plaque, making it harder for it to stick to teeth. Oil swishing daily is not enough to prevent gingivitis which is why the ADA does not recommend oil pulling as a replacement for brushing and flossing!
It’s not Always Safe
The first thing to note with oil pulling is that it’s absolutely not safe for children. Oil can potentially be swallowed and enter a child’s lungs, causing lipoid pneumonia. This is a potentially lethal condition for a young child. With the very few positive things oil pulling can do, it’s entirely not worth the risk. Another thing to be aware of is the quality of oils you intend to use, should you go forward with oil pulling. It’s been shown that some oils produced in Southeast Asia can contain potentially harmful levels of lead, mercury, and arsenic. It’s crucial to make sure the oils you are using are high-quality, organic, and are sold by a reputable manufacturer. If you’re going to swish something in your mouth for 20 minutes, you need to make sure it’s not toxic! One last thing to consider is allergies. When ingested in minimal doses, people may not realize they are slightly or even moderately allergic to something like coconut oil. However, swishing it in your mouth for 20 minutes may bring about unpleasant reactions. Make sure you have absolutely no allergies to any of the oils that are approved for pulling before you move forward.
It can be a Good Mouthwash Substitute
Standard mouthwash can be excellent at killing bacteria, but sometimes it’s a little too good at its job and kills a lot of good bacteria along with the bad. It’s essential that the body contains a good microbiome, or bacterial ecology, to keep it running smoothly, especially in regards to the immune system. This is where oil pulling can be quite beneficial. If you don’t like the taste or feel of regular mouthwash, go ahead and give oil pulling a try! It seems that coconut oil has the most benefits for this kind of use as it contains the most antibacterial and anti-fungal properties as well as vitamin E and lauric acid. It’s also safe to do during pregnancy, so women who have an aversion to heavy scents or flavors of mouthwash while they are expecting can use oil pulling as a safe and effective alternative.
While oil pulling seems quite harmless, some side effects of daily pulling can be bothersome. Some people have noted undesirable effects including excessive thirst, dry mouth, changes in ability to taste, and jaw stiffness. The dry mouth effect is caused by oil binding with saliva and being completely removed when the oil is spit out. This leaves you with a very, very dry mouth which, ironically, can be very detrimental to mouth health. To avoid losing sensation of your tongue and ability to taste, some doctors suggest swishing for 5 minutes instead of 20, which your jaw will thank you for too. Sitting around for 20 minutes may not seem like a long time, but 20 minutes of swishing can become tiresome. Some people have also reported nausea from having the oil in their mouth for 20 minutes, along with a strange phenomenon where oil can pull phlegm into your mouth from your throat or nasal passages if you suffer from post nasal drip. None of these effects are extreme, so if you still wish to try oil pulling, be prepared for some minor discomfort.
If you’re tempted to give oil pulling a shot, keep in mind that many of the health claims associated with it have not been scientifically proven. It won’t significantly whiten your teeth, it shouldn’t replace brushing and flossing, and most of all, it can’t cure things like TMJ or other related issues. If you want to dedicate 20 minutes every morning to your oral health, we suggest investing in a water pick to help fight gingivitis and decay between teeth. It will cost a fraction of the amount you would spend on a monthly oil supply for pulling. Also during those 20 minutes, you can work to perfect your brushing and flossing technique. Dentists are seeing the effects of over brushing and overly abrasive brushing far too often. If you’re still curious, pull out a tablespoon and give it a shot. Happy pulling!