The Facts about Oil Pulling for Dental Health
A new trend in dental health is becoming wildly popular, headlining in health magazines, proselytized by celebrities, and it’s called oil pulling. It’s the act of swishing oil, such as coconut oil, around in your mouth for about 20 minutes as part of your oral hygiene routine. Yet, although this is a new trend in popular culture, the practice is part of an ancient Ayurvedic Indian tradition that has been used for thousands of years.
The technique of oil pulling is very simple: just take a tablespoon of oil (coconut, sesame or sunflower), and swish it around in your teeth for 20 minutes, pulling it through your teeth and around your gums, throughout your entire mouth.
The effectiveness of oil pulling is caused essentially by dissolving plaque and bacteria in your mouth with the oil. Since plaque is fat soluble versus water soluble, the effectiveness of the practice makes logical sense. Swishing the oil around your mouth traps plaque, bacteria and other potentially harmful microbes and combines or dissolves them in the oil, which you spit out. Many who have used oil pulling, including celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Shailene Woodley, report reduced plaque build-up, clearing up bad breath and even reports of improved gum health.
The Science Behind Oil Pulling
About 30 systemic diseases are said to be cured through oil pulling based on Ayurveda texts, and many holistic health sources recommend the practice as part of a whole-body detoxification method. The actual affects oil pulling has on systemic health has not yet been proven in scientific circles, and such claims remain quite controversial, but there is published scientific evidence of the positive effects oil pulling has on oral health.
“Oil pulling has been used extensively as a traditional Indian folk remedy without scientific proof for many years for strengthening teeth, gums and jaws and to prevent decay, oral malodor, bleeding gums and dryness of throat and cracked lips.” — Indian Journal of Dental Research
Research reported in the US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, describes the efficacy of oil pulling as an effective oral hygiene tool:
“A study was conducted by Asokan S et al (2009) to evaluate the effect of oil pulling with sesame oil on plaque-induced gingivitis, and to compare its efficacy with chlorhexidine mouthwash. A total of 20 age-matched adolescent boys with plaque-induced gingivitis were selected for this study. They were divided randomly into the study or oil pulling group (Group I) and the control or chlorhexidine group (Group II) with 10 subjects in each group. Plaque index and modified gingival index scores were recorded for the 20 subjects and baseline plaque samples were also collected. There was a statistically significant reduction of the pre- and post-values of the plaque and modified gingival index scores in both the study and control groups (p < 0.001 in both). The oil pulling therapy showed a reduction in the plaque index, modified gingival scores, and total colony count of aerobic microorganisms in the plaque of adolescents with plaque-induced gingivitis.”
The scientific study cited above used sesame oil in its trials, and it is the most traditionally used oil in oil pulling, but both coconut and sunflower oil are also used. Many prefer the taste of coconut oil, which also is reported to have antibacterial properties that could augment its effectiveness. Yet, no matter which oil you choose to use when applying this technique, it does have sound evidence to support its effectiveness and no harmful side effects are known. There is only one caution: please do avoid nut oils if you have nut allergies, and then this method is perfectly safe for anyone to use.