Oil Pulling – Beneficial Or Bunk?

Posted on Oct 06, 2016 by William J. Claiborne, DDS MS

Occasionally, I am asked about the recent fad of oil pulling. The internet is full of followers of this practice who claim it pulls bacteria and toxins from the body.

Oil pulling is an ancient folk remedy that involves holding a tablespoon of coconut oil in the mouth for 5-15 minutes. It is swished around during this time and spit out at the end of the oil pulling period.

This action is supposed to draw impurities from the mouth. In most situations, coconut oil is used for this purpose but oils such as sesame, olive and palm may also be used.

Those who adhere to Ayurvedic health practices (an ancient, holistic medicine) claim this balances the body’s doshas, which are the energies that affect one’s physical, physiologic and mental state as well as their susceptibility to disease. However, most who practice oil pulling do so for its so-called oral health benefits.

Oil pulling to improve dental health is said to improve gum problems, remove plaque and whiten teeth. However, claims on the internet are not always reliable and what is in the best interest of your oral health deserves careful scrutiny. coconut-oil

Research has found that oil pulling has not lived up to some claims. For example, one study compared oil pulling to mouthwash as a method to reduce bad breath and oral bacteria. Findings showed that oil pulling was no more effective than mouthwashes that contain chlorhexidine, a common ingredient.

While research did not refute that there were some advantages to oil pulling, the American Dental Association (ADA) cites a “lack of science” and does not recommend oil pulling as either a supplement to oral hygiene nor as a replacement for standard oral health treatments.

The ADA is also keeping a watchful eye over claims in research being conducted, citing that some past studies have been inadequate to support claims of oil pulling. They feel that results have been based on too small samplings, not adjusting for demographic variations and failure to incorporate blind testing.

Additionally, the ADA stated, “scientific studies have not provided the necessary clinical evidence to demonstrate that oil pulling reduces the incidence of dental caries, whitens teeth or improves oral health and well-being.”

The leading concern in the dental profession is that it has prompted some people to rely on oil pulling to fully replace standard oral care practices. Twice daily brushing and daily flossing have proven to be safe and effective methods of achieving and maintaining good dental health. Substituting this routine for oil pulling is an uncertain way to prevent cavities and periodontal (gum) disease.

As a periodontal specialist, I don’t see oil pulling as detrimental when it is an addition to a proper oral hygiene regimen at home. However, I am troubled by unsubstantiated claims that inspire people to alter time-tested methods for maintaining a healthy mouth.

Some people may remember when baking soda was touted as a powerful cleaning substance for brushing teeth. Yet, those who abided by the practice worn down healthy gum tissues and wore away protective tooth enamel. This set them up for easy penetration of oral bacteria that resulted in cavities and gum disease.

While oil pulling likely won’t do harm, it is probably best done in conjunction with a thorough brush-&-floss routine.

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