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Oil pulling has gained popularity on social media and blogs for those seeking more natural or homeopathic ways to improve their health. There are many claims regarding the health benefits of oil pulling, but we will stick to oral health benefits and concerns in this article.
Oil pulling is an ancient Ayurvedic practice of swishing or “pulling” an oil through the teeth and around the mouth. Most people today use coconut oil, but you can also use any vegetable oil, including sesame, sunflower, olive oil, and palm oil. The technique requires you to swish the oil around in your mouth for fifteen to twenty minutes.
The physical practice of oil pulling is similar to using mouthwash for a really long time. The term “pulling” is the idea of pulling the oil between the teeth in a sucking motion in addition to normal swishing the oil around in the mouth.
Proponents of oil pulling have lots of claims of the benefits it will provide its users. Specific to coconut oil, people who believe in oil pulling say it kills both viruses and bacteria and fights inflammation. Most of the oral health benefits stem from these claims. If something kills bacteria and fights inflammation, that puts it in a position to be a powerful oral health preserver.
The two most prevalent dental diseases (cavities and gum disease) involve both bacteria and inflammation, so if oil pulling does work against them, it might actually improve your oral health. By killing bacteria, it would reduce the risk for cavities and gum disease. By fighting inflammation, it could improve gingivitis (red, swollen, bleeding gums).
Many people also claim that oil pulling will whiten your teeth, improve your breath, and enhance your overall well-being.
Oil pullers recommend performing this every day, but you may need to work your way up to daily practice by starting with a short swish a few times a week.
There is some support in the research of oil pulling. It is important to understand that when there is not much published scientific research on a specific subject, it is hard for professionals to take a definite stand. Officially, there is not enough research to support the claims of these few studies. This is where the American Dental Association currently stands on the subject of oil pulling, which means this is also where most traditional dentists stand on the subject.
Unofficially, there is some evidence to suggest that it could have some genuine benefits for oral health. One study compared oil pulling with sesame oil to a chlorhexidine mouth rinse. (Chlorhexidine is an antibiotic mouthwash that targets specific bacteria in the mouth). After two weeks, oil pulling showed a reduction in specific bacteria (Streptococcus mutans, which is one of the main bacteria causing cavities) in dental plaque. The amount of bacteria reduction was similar to that produced in the subjects using Chlorhexidine, a pharmaceutical antibiotic rinse.
This means that oil pulling could actually reduce the risk of cavities.
Another study showed a similar reduction in plaque buildup and bleeding gums when comparing oil pulling to Chlorhexidine mouthwash. This is good news for many people who do not want to use a harsh pharmaceutical chemical to improve their oral health.
In terms of bad breath, anything that reduces the amount of bacteria in the mouth will help improve your breath. Bad breath comes from an overgrowth of bacteria on the teeth, under the gums, and on the tongue. If oil pulling reduces plaque and kills bacteria, which some scientific research supports, then it is safe to say that it would also improve bad breath.
Although oil pulling may improve breath, it will not pull stains out of the teeth or make them whiter. Effective teeth whitening requires a compound that can penetrate through the enamel and oxidize (or break down) darkly pigmented molecules under the surface. Current science shows that only peroxide chemicals are capable of this action. Oil pulling will not whiten your teeth.
No matter what, oil pulling cannot ever replace good oral hygiene including brushing and flossing for plaque removal. It is safe to use as an additional tool, but it is NOT a replacement.
Oil pulling is fine and it won’t hurt you. But it also won’t do more for your oral health than normal mouthwash, brushing, and flossing.