The term “oil pulling” seems to be popping up all over social media these days, but is there any meat to the claims that it can help your dental welfare or, even better, your overall wellness? First, let’s cover what it is, then go over what it may do for you.
Back to the Beginning
The practice of oil pulling involves holding edible oil in your mouth and often swishing it around your teeth for anywhere between three to twenty minutes. Fans of the practice say it’s something you should do every morning before you eat anything. As odd as it sounds to see benefits from something as simple as swishing oil in your mouth, the practice goes a little deeper than what you’d do with mouthwash. That’s because when you start oil pulling, you’re taking part in an ancient Ayurvedic practice dating back about 5,000 years. It was used to prevent tooth decay, bad breath, bleeding gums, dry throat, and cracked lips. It’s also been proven in certain studies overseas to strengthen the teeth, gums, and jaw. And beyond that, it’s believed that it may help prevent other health issues, such as headaches, asthma, and diabetes.
Even though it’s an ancient practice, it’s gaining popularity again for its oral hygiene benefits. However, it lacks scientific evidence in the U.S. documenting that, so it’s not something the American Dental Association (ADA) recommends. The studies that do exist on oil pulling so far are small, conducted on adolescents, and published in India.
If you’re still willing to consider it, keep reading.
How exactly does it work?
Typically, you’d put a tablespoon of sunflower, sesame, or coconut oil in your mouth on an empty stomach. It’s only been recommended for adults and children five and older, with children recommended only using a teaspoon of oil, not a tablespoon. You just hold it there for at least three minutes and no more than 20. After that, spit it out and rinse your mouth with warm water.
What does it do? Well, several things, according to its fans.
They say it works to clean your gums and teeth and could kill harmful bacteria in your mouth. That’s good because certain bacteria can cause tooth decay, bad breath, and gum disease. One 2019 study published in the Journal of the Indian Society of Pedodontics and Preventive Dentistry had participants use sesame oil every day for 15 days. They found it significantly reduced bacteria that leads to tooth decay, similar to what would happen with antibacterial mouthwash. Other studies found similar results with coconut oil. It was also found to kill bacteria that lead to gingivitis, which is a mild gum disease.
Some people believe oil pulling cuts the buildup of plaque on your teeth by acting as a protective coating. Practitioners also think it makes it harder for bacteria to stick to your teeth while providing antioxidant properties. Some even believe it activates digestion and becomes an antiviral and antibacterial agent when the oil mixes with digestive enzymes. The oil can react with saliva to form a soap-like substance with antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. Oil pulling could even impact your mouth’s pH levels, bringing them back to neutral or basic levels.
Another benefit to oil pulling could be to treat halitosis or bad breath. A study on children found that those who rinsed with either sesame oil or chlorhexidine (an antiseptic) saw a significant decrease in microorganisms linked to bad breath. However, that was a small study of only about 20 children. But if bad breath is an issue you’ve grappled with, this might be one way to combat it.
Fans of the procedure say it’s a good thing for someone who takes medicines that dry out their mouth. Things like antidepressants, blood pressure medicines, and some antihistamines can all contribute to dry mouth, and oil pulling is said to counteract that.
Is it Safe?
There are few dangers if you do this at home, as long as you aren’t swallowing the oils each day. You can choose to swish it around in your mouth, and the swishing works the jaw muscles, working up circulation and washing the teeth. Or, you can put even more oil in your mouth, filling it too much to be able to swish it, then just hold it there. That allows it to end up absorbed in the skin inside your cheeks, gums, and tongue.
It could be dangerous to do this if you’ve had recent surgery in your mouth, like having a tooth pulled or getting a root canal, and haven’t healed yet. Beyond that, as long as the person trying it is older than 5, it could be worth giving it a try.
Doing it for the recommended 20 minutes could be a challenge. You can start with just three minutes and build your way up. It’s important to note that the longer you swish, the more you work your jaw muscles, which provides other benefits mentioned above. Proponents of oil swishing say it’s better to do this for a few minutes each day than for 20 minutes only once in a while. Building up to oil pulling for longer periods will ultimately get you used to the practice.
It’ll also be important to make sure you’re using the right oils. Go for herbal options, not the plain sesame or coconut oil you might use for cooking. The herbal options with herbs and spices, like mint or cinnamon, will make it more palatable. And be sure it’s not processed since those are stripped of the nutrients you’re hoping to gain.
Ultimately, it may take weeks or months to see the benefits, so stick with it, but your mouth will start feeling fresh right away.
Oils for Pulling