Is “Oil Pulling” Good for Your Teeth?

Is Oil Pulling Good for Your Teeth?

Swishing vegetable oil in one’s mouth, a practice called “oil pulling,” has been growing in popularity lately as a New Age-y way for people to improve their dental health, but in fact, there’s little “new” about it. The technique was written about in ancient Indian texts dating back as much as 2,000 years or more, so its longevity must mean there’s something to it, right?

Well, scientific studies so far have been inconclusive, and the Food and Drug Administration has yet to evaluate oil for its dental benefits, but that hasn’t stopped an increasing number of people from adopting the practice and part of their oral care routine. There are even dentists like Indianapolis’ Ted Reese who openly endorse oil pullling and recommend it to their patients. “Our patients are just very impressed with the results they’re seeing,” he states. “I’m impressed with the results we’re seeing orally in terms of hygiene and reduced bacteria and improved health in the gums.”

According to those who advocate the technique, oil pulling can be effective in whitening teeth, reducing plaque, strengthening gums, preventing bad breath, cavities and gingivitis, as well as dry throat, cracked lips and bleeding gums.

The routine calls for swishing a tablespoon of organic oil in your mouth for up to 20 minutes before spitting it out — in a toilet or trash can, if possible, because the oil can clog drains. The type of oil can vary — sesame, sunflower and coconut being the most popular — but it should be white and milky when you spit it out. If it’s not, you haven’t swished it long enough or vigorously enough. No matter what type of oil is used, they all supposedly act the same: drawing out bacteria and toxins from the mouth (thus the term “pulling”). Additionally, some oils, like coconut, reportedly have antibiotic properties that whiten teeth.

Scientific opinion is still divided on the value of oil pulling, but a 2012 Irish study found that coconut oil attacks bacteria that can cause tooth decay, and a 2009 Indian study found that sesame seed oil pulling worked to reduce plaque and gingivitis. That said, claims that oil pulling detoxification can improve a wide range of ailments throughout the body — acne, asthma, sinus problems, poor vision, exhaustion, anorexia, migraines, arthritis, irregular menstrual cycles, poor sleep, lack of energy — are less founded in published evidence.

Before you jump headlong into oil pulling, however, it’s important to note that it isn’t meant to replace brushing or flossing. It works in conjunction with those more traditional oral health routines, and in fact, it’s recommended that oil pulling be followed up with a thorough brushing to maximize its impact.

(Sources: The Denver Channel, Swanson Vitamins, Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, The National, The Huffington Post, BBC News)