It was only a few years ago when we came across the term “oil pulling” on a few different alternative health related websites. Scratching our heads, we wondered what on earth oil pulling was exactly, as we read anecdotal evidence of the benefits some claimed to have experienced. To be honest, when we found out what oil pulling was, there was admittedly some snickering going on.
What we discovered was that the act of swirling oil (usually Sesame oil is recommended) around in one’s mouth, around and pushing through between the teeth for ten minutes or longer was supposed to have some amazing health benefits. “What an odd practice,” some of us thought.
More research simply out of curiousity was conducted and it was learned that oil pulling is an old Ayervedic treatment and practice that was common in India. According to Ayervidic practitioners, it is said to help reduce symptoms as well as prevent a number of diseases by detoxifying the body. The modern theory is that by detoxifying the mouth through “pulling” harmful germs and bacteria out of the gums and between the teeth, the body itself has less toxins to deal with and an overall increase in ratio of good bacteria to bad. This swishing of oil also activates enzymes in the mouth which aid in the process of eliminating toxins.
Oil Pulling Health Benefits
Because of the fact that oil pulling is considered a general detoxification, there have been many health benefits reported. These include everything from a cancer preventative to leaving the person that practices oil pulling on a daily or regular basis with an overall sense of well being and good health. There is quite a bit of anecdotal evidence to suggest that there may be something to improved health benefits with daily oil pulling. Some women have reported less menstrual cramping while men who practice oil pulling report a an overall sense of well being with less fatigue.
Other symptoms that are both reported as well as a traditional Ayervedic treatment include:
- Reducing teeth decay
- Eliminating bad breath caused by haliotosis
- Reducing acne
- Reducing symptoms of or eliminating allergies
- Life extension
- Reducing both pain and frequency of migraine headaches
- Reducing or eliminating arthritic symptoms
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Curing peptic ulcers
- Prevention and treatment for pneumonia
- Prevention and supplemental treatment for heart disease
- General body aches and pains
- Teeth whitening
- Skin problems such as Eczema
- Improved libido among both men and women
One of the most frequently cited benefits of oil pulling come from those who claim to have experienced a significant improvement in overall oral health including repairing gum disease, in turn tightening loose teeth. In addition, some have reported that by practicing oil pulling, it has helped cure them of addictions to tobacco smoking, which of course is an addiction that can have very unhealthy consequences for oral health.
What Does Science Say About Oil Pulling?
Because oil pulling is not a well known practice throughout the world, there has admittedly been little scientific investigation into the practice. However, what investigation has been conducted is quite intriguing and certainly, no harm is known to come as a result of it. In 2011, the Journal of Indian Society of Pedontics and Preventative Dentistry published a study that showed that oil pulling had as much benefit in treating halitosis, bad breath that can be caused by bacteria below the gumline, as treatment with a mouthwash containing the antibacterial drug chlorhexidine.
In 2009, the Indian Journal of Dental Research published a study on the effect of oil pulling on gingivitis with the results showing that regular practice reduced gingivitis as well as reducing plaque and overall aerobic bacterial levels in the mouth.
There has been some suggestion that oil pulling may have a placebo effect, however another study in the Indian Journal of Dental Research (2011 Jan-Feb;22(1):34-7. doi: 10.4103/0970-9290.7997) provides what appears to be conclusive evidence that oil pulling does have therapeutic benefits that are not simply of a placebo effect. The study concluded that the practice does have a “mechanical cleaning action” which has a benefit in reducing oral bacteria.
Other Health Benefits – Scientific Studies
At this time, there does not appear to be any other scientific investigation into the anecdotal reports of oil pulling helping with other physical disease or health conditions. However, we do know that there does appear to be a link with poor oral health and heart disease, which may be caused by bacteria. We also know that many diseases of the body are caused by infection and therefore, it is quite possible that oil pulling will also have additional health benefits beyond improved oral health. By improving the health of one’s mouth, there is a reduction in heart disease risk and oil pulling is now known to be an inexpensive and effective method of improving oral health.
Which Oil For Oil Pulling?
Traditionally, sesame oil has been used and today, there are many who claim that if you are going to engage in the practice, that you should only use sesame oil. It is true that this oil does appear to have some anti-bacterial properties which may also increase the effects of the mechanical action as noted in the study published in the Indian Journal of Dental Research. However, there is evidence through a study conducted in Ireland at the Athlone Institute of Technology that coconut oil may be superior to sesame oil. Combined with the enzymes that are activated in the mouth during the process of swishing coconut oil, there appeared to be an even greater antibacterial action. Coconut oil is known to have anti-pathogenic properties that go beyond bacteria and also include other types of microbes such as viruses and thrush causing yeast.
We began by questioning whether oil pulling with coconut oil offered any health benefits, and to be sure, when we first heard of this practice, we were quite skeptical. However, the scientific evidence in addition to the traditional anecdotal reports appear to be convincing that there are most definitely good reasons to give the practice some consideration.
It’s suggested that to see real deep and long term health gains, one should swish coconut oil in the mouth and between the teeth for 15 minutes each morning. While this may seem like a long time, you could do this while you are in the shower (as long as it’s not a practice of yours to sing at that time!). It is also apparently best to do your oil pulling before breakfast and to also brush your teeth immediately after.
You must spit the oil out of your mouth and not swallow it. The oil, which will thin considerably as you swish it around, will contain harmful bacteria that it has drawn out of your gums and between your teeth in addition to the surface of your tongue, and swallowing this could actually be harmful to your health.
Sesame oil has been traditionally used in India but coconut oil could have even more benefits than the traditional sesame. If you are going to try oil pulling, we recommend a coconut oil that is unrefined and labeled as either “Virgin” or “Extra Virgin” such as Nutiva, available through Amazon.com.
Effect of oil pulling on halitosis and microorganisms causing halitosis: a randomized controlled pilot trial. J Indian Soc Pedod Prev Dent. 2011 Apr-Jun;29(2):90-4. doi: 10.4103/0970-4388.84678. (Link).
Effect of oil pulling on plaque induced gingivitis: a randomized, controlled, triple-blind study. Indian J Dent Res. 2009 Jan-Mar;20(1):47-51. (PubMed).