Over the past year or so, we’ve all seen articles on the miracle of oil pulling and its untold health benefits. But how much of this is true? Let’s examine this practice a little more deeply to see if there’s anything to the craze.
What exactly is oil pulling?
The method itself is quite simple: you take a tablespoon of edible oil (coconut seems to be especially popular, but you can use sesame, sunflower, olive, etc.) and swish with it, pulling it through the teeth for anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes. It is an ancient folk remedy rooted in the Ayurvedic health care tradition with centuries of use.
What are the benefits?
Depending on who you ask, this method can cure all your ills. Anecdotally, proponents of oil pulling claim it can:
- remove toxins and harmful bacteria from the mouth and the body as a whole
- reduce plaque and improve cavity protection
- whiten teeth
Ayurvedic texts also claim oil pulling can cure up to 30 systemic diseases, from headaches to diabetes and asthma.
However, it’s important to note that there is little to no scientific evidence that oil pulling provides actual benefit. The American Dental Association (ADA) is quick to say that, while there is historical, popular and anecdotal support for the practice, scientific studies regarding it are at best inconclusive.
Additionally, as noted by the ADA in the same response, there are documented cases of diarrhea, upset stomach, lipid pneumonia and mineral oil aspiration, so the practice is not without risk.
What do dentists think about oil pulling?
At the end of the day we can really only speak for our dentists, who have both seen positive effects in some of our patients from oil pulling. Swishing with any non-harmful, non-acidic liquid for a prolonged period is likely to have SOME benefit - namely disrupting the biofilm that has settled on your teeth and dislodging/removing potentially harmful bacteria.
If done with proper caution, they feel the potential for adverse effects to be minimal - though be aware of the quality of the oil you’re using. Oils marketed specifically for the practice (non food grade) may not be appropriately tested for harmful levels of metal and arsenic.
Drs. Strobel and Terrassa are both quick to say, however, that this should be an adjunct to your home care routine, not a replacement. Brushing twice daily for 2 minutes a pop, rinsing with an antiseptic rinse like Listerine and flossing are all clinically proven, essential ingredients to successful home care.