What is “oil pulling” all about?
Last week, my dental assistant told me that her friend started rinsing her mouth with coconut oil because her dentist told her it could help with gingivitis. My assistant asked me if I ever heard of that before. My answer, no, definitely haven’t heard that one before nor have I read any scientific studies on it. So, I decided to do some investigating to see what I could find.
I found a blog posted on a local ABC station in Indianapolis that talked about some people who are swishing oil around in their mouths in attempts to pull bacteria out of their bodies. People that have stated this practice, and even some dentists, are convinced there are positive effects, such as whiter teeth and healthier gums. The blog stated that one person’s daily hygiene routine included a coconut oil rinse after brushing. After a month, they felt that it was whitening the teeth and pulling toxins out the mouth. Experts on this practice of oil pulling state that it isnot a replacement for the normal routine of brushing and flossing and that results can vary from person to person.
When I looked up an article on the NIH (National Institute of Health) website, this is what I found: oil pulling is part of Complementary and Alternative Medicine. It is a practice that involves swishing oil in the mouth for oral and systemic health benefits. It is mentioned in the Ayurvedic text Charaka Samhita (this is a holistic system of medicine which evolved in India some 3000-5000 years ago) where it is called Kavala or Gandusha. It is claimed to cure about 30 systemic diseases ranging from headache, migraine to diabetes and asthma.
It also mentioned that oil pulling has been used as a traditional Indian folk remedy for many years to prevent decay, oral malodor, bleeding gyms, dryness of throat, cracked lips and for strengthening teeth, gums and jaw. It states that sunflower oil and sesame oil are typically used. Oil pulling was recommended for those that could not brush their teeth due to severe ulcers or fevers or vomiting. The basic technique is to swish for 3 to 5 minutes and then gargle with the oil and then spit it out. It claims to enhance the senses, maintain clarity, bring a feeling of freshness and invigorate the mind. They also say it can help with bad breath, dry face, dull senses, exhaustion, anorexia, loss of taste, impaired vision, sore throat, and other imbalances.
The article also cited a study by Asokan S et al (2009) to evaluate the effect of oil pulling with sesame oil on plaque-induced gingivitis and to compare its effectiveness with chlorhexidine mouthwash (Peridex). The study selected 20 age-matched teenage boys with gingivitis. They were split up randomly into groups using the sesame oil and groups using chlorhexidine. The plaque score and gingival score was measured at baseline and then at the end of the study. In both groups, there was a statistically significant reduction in the plaque and gingival scores.
In conclusion, the oil pulling is basically a homeopathic attempt to supplement daily oral hygiene, which consists of 2 minutes 2 times a day brushing with fluoride toothpaste and flossing one time daily. I don’t feel confident saying that yes, this is going to help you based on the articles that I found and the one study cited.
The main take home point is that using a proper oral hygiene routine consisting of brushing your teeth for 2 minutes in the morning and 2 minutes at night with a fluoridated toothpaste and also flossing once a day along with a healthy diet is the most effective way to have good oral health. If you feel that you want to add oil pulling to your routine, I don’t think it would be harmful, just don’t forget the basics of brushing and flossing!
1. “Tooth brushing, oil pulling and tissue regeneration: A review of holistic approaches to oral health.” Abhinav Singh and Bharathi Purohit. J Ayurveda Integr Med. 2011 Apr-Jun; 2(2): 64–68.
Dr Reid is a Pugh Award distinguished board eligible pediatric dentist. She earned her pediatric specialty training through UCLA’s program at San Diego Rady Children’s Hospital. She has also served our servicemen as a Dental Officer at the Marine Corp Air Station, Miramar in San Diego. She’s also mommy to 5 year old Ezra. To follow her monthly blog posts, follow her at PediatricDentistSanDiego.com.