Does Oil Pulling Do Anything?
An ancient Ayurvedic practice, oil pulling has long circulated in natural or holistic health circles, but is it simply one of many trends labeled as “ancient” or does the practice carry real benefits in today’s world? My interest in oil pulling started when I read enough literature that described teeth more like coral that are a living part of the body’s overall equilibrium when I had previously thought of teeth as little bones that need to brushed.
Like many Ayurvedic practices that have gained some momentum in the western world, little formal research has been conducted so there isn’t a very objective answer about the usefulness of oil pulling. Further, like many trends that get labeled as “ancient” it bears to keep in mind that yes, it’s longevity probably means it carries some merit, but that doesn’t mean it’s more effective than modern methods, like toothpaste. That being said, fans of oil pulling don’t suggest it as a singular oral health practice, but in addition to regular brushing and flossing.
What is Oil Pulling?Oil Pulling is the Ayurvedic practice of swishing oil around in your mouth as a cleansing practice. Types of oil cleansing are common in Ayurvedic medicine, such as dripping oil into the ear or on the forehead in a massage practice. Swishing the oil around should be “pulling” it from side to side. Coconut oil is one of the most commonly used oils for this practice and it does have antimicrobial and antifungal compounds that help clean the mouth. The next most commonly used oil is sesame. One theory as to why it works is that many microbes in the mouth are single-cell bodies capped in a lipid exterior. This lipid exterior bonds to oil and through adhesion, extracts it from the mouth.
How To Oil Pull:Some sources recommend up to 20 minutes of oil pulling, but most agree only 4 or 5 minutes daily is enough to reap benefits. All it requires is allowing about a tablespoon of oil (but any amount the user is comfortable with is good) to swish around the mouth for a few minutes. The user will want to spit out in a cup or avoid spitting into the sink because it can clog the drain. Activated charcoal or a drop of essential oil such as Holy Basil can be added to the mix as well. For a beginner, one minute will feel like a long time. A challenge is avoiding swishing it around vigorously like mouthwash but pulling it gently through the teeth and gums. For someone who’s never tried it before, at first it may feel very counter-intuitive to put a tablespoon of coconut oil in your mouth and let it melt without swallowing, but it becomes normal with practice. It can be followed by a saltwater rinse or regular teeth brushing.
Does It Work?Proponents of oil pulling are usually those who have done it consistently for at least a couple of months. Going off of personal statements, practitioners tend to agree that it helped remove stains from teeth, support gum health, get rid of morning breath, and alleviate chronic discomfort. There does seem to be real evidence from studies that it reduces inflammation in the mouth. Coconut oil is an anti-fungal, so it also helps with oral thrush or candida. Even enthusiasts agree that it would be a stretch to say oil pulling will help with bigger claims sometimes seen like reversing cavities, headaches, acne, weight loss and TMJ. If you have a cavity... go to the dentist.
Brooke’s Take:Many dental products emphasize minty and sweet flavors. I find coconut oil as a mouthwash to be a relaxed and grounding change from the "Listerine clean" sensation. I’ve enjoyed an oil pulling practice on and off for a few years. I feel like it gently nourishes the mouth while cleaning. I’ve found that if I do it in the morning while going about other tasks it still forces my mind to slow down. I actually do it as a fun meditative practice that helps me check in with my body more than an oral hygiene practice. Obtaining 5 minutes of oil pulling was truly a mental challenge for me. So, my personal opinion is to give it a try if you haven't already!