Oil Pulling: A Straightforward Look at an Alternative Therapy

Natural living enthusiasts have practiced it for decades. Celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Shailene Woodley have even jumped on the bandwagon. Oil pulling is all the rage in 2014, yet this ancient practice draws from the Ayurvedic healing tradition of India. Oil pulling is purported to cure a wide range of oral health problems, from tooth decay and gum disease to canker sores. Today, we’re taking an in depth tour of this alternative oral health remedy and examining whether it lives up to the hype.

How to “Oil Pull”

The practice is simple: take 2-3 tablespoons of oil (usually untoasted sesame oil, sunflower oil, or coconut oil) and swish it around your mouth for 10-20 minutes first thing in the morning before you drink or eat. After you’ve finished swishing, spit the oil out into a trash can (never into the sink or toilet where it can clog the pipes). Experts warn oil pullers to take care never to swallow or aspirate the used oil, as it’s laden with bacteria.

Yet, for its relative simplicity, the mere act of oil pulling has a couple of drawbacks. First, having a mouthful of oil can feel odd or unpleasant to the uninitiated. Second, swishing for the recommended time can wear out your jaw muscles at first. Most oil pulling enthusiasts report that muscular discomfort goes away after a week or two.

What Does the Research Say?

Three studies published in the Indian Journal of Dental Research have shown that oil pulling may be effective at preventing some oral health problems. All three studies used similar methodologies to demonstrate that oil pulling with sesame oil was as effective as chlorhexadine (an antiseptic mouth rinse commonly prescribed by dentists) at reducing the microorganisms responsible for gingivitis, tooth decay, and halitosis (bad breath).

However, most mainstream dental experts who have researched the practice suggest that oil pulling works not out of some as-yet-undiscovered curative property, but because it acts in much the same manner as conventional mouthwash. The mechanical action of oil swishing past the gums, teeth, and other oral tissue loosens and removes built up bacterial plaque, dead epithelial cells, and food particles. Thus, oil pulling does create a healthier oral environment by reducing harmful microorganisms.

Oil pulling on its own is not enough to keep your teeth and gums healthy. As long as you continue to brush and floss according to the American Dental Association’s guidelines and you don’t have any serious, pre-existing oral health problems, oil pulling provides a safe and effective alternative to conventional mouthwashes.

About Shawn Hofkes, DDS

With advanced training in oral and maxillofacial surgery and certification in oral and IV sedation, Shawn Hofkes, DDS provides advanced dentistry services from our state-of-the-art dentist office in Cerritos, CA. To schedule your appointment or consultation with Dr. Hofkes, contact us today. We proudly serve patients of all ages from Cerritos, Lakewood, Long Beach, Buena Park, and all surrounding communities.