I was recently asked about oil pulling. Although I’d heard of it, I decided to do some research to get better informed.
The internet is full of followers who apparently claim the action “pulls” bacteria and toxins from the body through the mouth. Oil pulling, an ancient folk remedy, involves swishing a tablespoon of coconut oil in the mouth for at least 5 and up to 15 minutes and spitting it out. The most common oil for this practice is coconut oil although sesame, olive and palm oils are also used.
Those who practice Ayurvedic health holistic medicine feel this daily action helps to balance the energy in the body that affects our physical, physiologic and mental state. Some believe it also lowers susceptibility to disease. However, most who practice oil pulling do so for perceived oral health benefits.
Oil pulling loyalists claim it improves gum problems, removes plaque and even whitens teeth. Like a number of claims on the internet, however, what is truth and what is fiction may conflict with what is best for your oral health.
In the pro column for oil pulling is research that shows oil pulling does help to reduce bad breath and oral bacteria. Even so, one study compared oil pulling’s effectiveness to no more than that of over-the-counter mouthwash containing chlorhexidine, which is a common ingredient.
In the con column, the American Dental Association (ADA) cites a “lack of science” and does not recommend oil pulling as either a supplement to oral hygiene nor as a replacement for standard oral health treatments. They feel research results have been based on too small samplings with no adjustments for demographic variations. They also cite the failure of previous research to incorporate blind testing.
While the ADA monitors how future research is conducted, they are firm that some past studies have fallen short in their claims of oil pulling’s benefits. They stated, “scientific studies have not provided the necessary clinical evidence to demonstrate that oil pulling reduces the incidence of dental caries, whitens teeth or improves oral health and well-being.”
The main concern in the dental profession is that the act of oil pulling has caused some devotees to forego traditional oral care regimens of twice daily brushing and daily flossing. These time-honored actions have proven to be effective maintenance for good oral health. As a dentist, I’m concerned that people who substitute this routine in favor of oil pulling are at higher risk of dental decay and periodontal (gum) disease.
If oil pulling is done in addition to a thorough oral hygiene regimen at home, I don’t see a potential for harm. However, there are many unsubstantiated claims on the internet and I hope that people choose to stick with safe, time-tested methods for maintaining a healthy mouth.
This reminds me of when baking soda was lauded as an inexpensive alternative to toothpaste. We now know that baking soda is far too abrasive for teeth and gum tissues. Consistent users actually wore down healthy gum tissues and eroded protective tooth enamel, leaving them vulnerable for cavities and gum disease. Although there is no indication that oil pulling will do harm, I feel it is best done in conjunction with a thorough brush-&-floss routine.