For years the medical and dental communities have been noncommittal on whether swishing coconut, sunflower or sesame oil in your mouth has any real benefits. In fact, the practice’s growing popularity prompted a wave of negative articles. But the attitude within the scientific community may be starting to change.
The Oil Pulling Method
Oil pulling is simpler than the name suggests. You put about a tablespoon or so of an organic, unrefined food-grade oil in your mouth, and swish it around for about 20 minutes. The tradition is an ancient one, coming from Ayurvedic traditions that go back thousands of years.
The “pulling” refers to the toxins and bacteria that are reputedly pulled into your saliva as you swish the oil around. These pulled “bad guys” when you spit out the saliva/oil blend.
What Advocates Say
Proponents of oil pulling say that doing it daily leads to whiter teeth, fresher breath, healthier gums and decreased tooth decay.
In terms of broader benefits, the Ayurvedic tradition holds that the toxins removed from your mouth prevent their spread into your system. Removing these toxins leads to clearer skin, fewer headaches, weight loss, and even lowers the risk of diabetes and heart disease — again, according to oil pulling advocates.
Detoxing at Spas
You may have seen oil pulling mentioned as part of a detox package at your favorite spa. Dr. John Douillard’s LifeSpa, a Colorado holistic wellness center specializing in Ayurveda techniques, advocates oil pulling as part of its oleation program. This cleansing program uses fats to detox the whole body. A coconut or sesame oil pulling session for the mouth is included.
VitalLiving Ayurveda Massage & Wellness Spa in California focuses on sesame oil, in part because of its traditional association with Ayurvedic medicine. In addition, sesame oil starts out as a liquid (unlike solid coconut oil). That makes it easier to blend with other herbs and spices the spa recommends for oral health, including turmeric.
The Current Consensus
“Consensus” might be too much to hope for, given the lack of agreement that’s always apt to exist within the scientific community. Yet recent research indicates that oil pulling does seem to contribute to oral health. A 2017 compilation of recent studies found that those who began oil pulling had significant reductions of gingivitis, tooth decay, plaque and staining after several weeks.
Different oils seem to fight different kinds of mouth bacteria, according to the research. Coconut oil was found to fight two different kinds, while sesame and sunflower each reduced one kind.
What’s the Bottom Line on Oil Pulling?
Scientists agree that even if you oil pull, the practice shouldn’t replace brushing and flossing. The American Dental Association doesn’t acknowledge the efficacy of oil pulling, but does concede that it does no harm.
As for the broader benefits? Little research has been done on it, and scientists remain skeptical of ayurvedic claims. What is generally acknowledged in Western medicine, however, is that some serious health problems can be traced to infections that start in the mouth.
Photo by Tiara Leitzman on Unsplash