Oil pulling is a new fad in “DIY” medicine, where people swish with oil for about 20 minutes a day. Advocates of oil pulling claim that it whitens teeth, improves gum health, reverses cavities, and cures hangovers, along with helping with a range of other ailments.
There are a lot of big claims about oil pulling. Some of these claims have some truth behind them, while others are clearly over the top. Today, we’re going to get to the bottom of oil pulling and answer a few questions surrounding the folk remedy. For instance, is oil pulling really as effective as they say, or is it just another pseudoscience fad? Even more importantly, can oil pulling replace other dental health routines?
The History of Oil Pulling
Even though this might be the first time you’re hearing about oil pulling, it’s been around for a long time. According to one study, oil pulling began in ancient India as an Ayurvedic dental remedy.
Ayurvedic medicine is a holistic form of healing that started out about 3000 – 5000 years ago. In Ayurvedic medicine, dentistry didn’t have its own branch, but ancient texts documented a variety of holistic treatments for dental cavities, plaque, and gum disease.
One of these remedies was oil pulling. According to the Indian folk remedy, the health benefits of oil pulling extended far beyond dental health. Instead, it was supposed to provide health benefits for your entire body.
In one ancient text, the Kavala, oil pulling was described as a remedy for 30 different diseases, including headaches, migraines, diabetes, asthma, dry throat, cracked lips, gum disease, and tooth decay. Swishing your mouth with oil was thought to cure a gambit of health problems and even strengthen your teeth and jawbone.
In the texts, oil pulling wasn’t isolated to coconut oil. They also used sunflower oil, sesame oil, coconut oil, or other seed species of oil. In its traditional uses, oil pulling was mostly used to reduce dryness in your mouth.
The early 1990s was when we began to see modern practices of oil pulling. In Bangalore, South India, an Ayurvedic Evangelist, Tummala Rao, readapted the ancient practices in modern alternative medicine.
This resurgence of attention to oil pulling caught on with a Ukranian doctor named F. Karach, who took it to the Western world. Before the 1990s, oil pulling wasn’t practiced at all in the western world. According to Karach, he used oil pulling to cure his Leukemia. However, according to the popular myth debunker, Snopes.com, there is no biological record of this cure.
In 2008, oil pulling made its first appearance in the alternative health realm by Bruce Fife, a naturopath and nutritionist. In his book, Oil Pulling Therapy: Detoxifying and Healing the Body Through Oral Cleansing, Fife talked about the miraculous wonders of swishing with coconut oil. As the coconut oil advocate of the world, Fife was appointed the president of the Coconut Research Center.
Since Fife’s book, coconut oil has taken off like a roman candle on the 4th of July. Nowadays, there are a myriad of books, websites, and blogs dedicated to highlighting the powers of oil pulling.
Oil pulling is advertised as helping against dental health issues, like gingivitis, bad breath, and gum disease, as well as insomnia, PMS, leukemia, meningitis, kidney disease, chronic pain, AIDS, and a slew of other disorder. It’s even caught on to the point, where there are entire blogs dedicated to showing how to make your own coconut oil chews. In this specific DIY oil pulling blog, they mix an essential oil with the coconut oil to give it a better flavor.
Today, oil pulling is championed as curing just about every ailment under the sun, which seems a little far-fetched. There isn’t a lot of science backing these claims, but we’ll dispel the science behind oil pulling later. For now, we’re going to talk about the positive claims of oil pulling through a success story we dug up on the internet.
Success Stories with Oil Pulling
One man tells his success story with oil pulling on the popular website PaleoHacks, claiming that it did a 180 for his dental health. For the sake of this story, we’ll call the oil pulling advocate Joe. According to the writer, it was a blood bath anytime he’d brush or floss his teeth. His gums constantly ached and brushing would just make them hurt worse.
Joe, like a lot of oil pulling advocates, heard that it would help solve his dental woes. So, he went down to his community Trader Joe’s and picked up an overpriced jar of cold pressed coconut oil. Joe was excited to get home and try out this new miracle technique on his gums.
So, he spooned out a tablespoon of coconut oil into his Pyrex measuring cup, popped it in the microwave, and melted it for 20 seconds. Joe held his nose, then poured the tablespoon of coconut oil in his mouth and started swishing it gently for the next 30 minutes. He let the oil pull between his teeth, swirl around his gums, and fully coat his mouth. After his oil pulling experience, he brushed his teeth and continued on with his day.
According to Joe’s story, he immediately noticed a difference. His gums felt invigorated and moisturized. He claimed that it loosened the plaque on his teeth to the point that he was able to brush and floss it away with ease.
After a couple weeks of oil pulling, Joe began to notice that his teeth were brighter and cleaner than they’d felt in months. According to his account, his breath stopped smelling as bad, and his teeth started feeling less sensitive. He also noted that his gum recession became less noticeable. Before his oil pulling experiment, Joe also suffered from TMJ problems, in which he noticed subsided.
He even mentions that he tried oil pulling after having too many Mint Juleps one night, and the coconut oil killed his hangover quicker than Gatorade or salt water. From Joe’s perspective, oil pulling seems like a miracle cure for all of his dental health problems.
Joe isn’t alone in trying oil pulling for his dental health, and there are quite a few varying reactions on the Internet from people who have tried oil pulling.
One user on the popular social media platform Twitter.com writes:
Did Oil Pulling for the first time today. 6/10 experience. I appreciate my mouth smelling like self-tanner.
— Coco (@cocoquizon) March 28, 2016
Another user championed oil pulling:
Holistic tip – I’ve had a massive toothache for the past few days…oil pulling & oregano oil have done wonders!! Better than oragel. — Ashley (@ashlynne14) March 15, 2016
Is There Any Science Behind It?
Since oil pulling has made its way to the Western World, there are a small number of studies trying to solidify and dispell the claims of its legitimacy.
Some research found that rinsing with coconut oil successfully reduced the amount of Streptococcus mutans, bacteria that’s a source of tooth decay and bacterial overgrowth. At the same time, the study compared oil pulling to rinsing with a chlorhexidine rinse and found that it didn’t reduce S. mutans any more than a store bought chlorhexidine rinse. In fact, chlorhexidine ended up being much more effective at reducing S. mutans. However, the study didn’t mention whether oil pulling actually reduced cavities.
Another study looked at sesame oil and found similar results. Studies also show that the Lauric acid in coconut oil might make it more effective, since it’s known to fight off viruses, bacteria, and yeast overgrowth.
Other studies on the effective nature of oil pulling don’t give sufficient evidence or provide a large enough sample population for the studies to matter. There isn’t enough conclusive scientific evidence to show whether oil pulling is actually effective for reducing tooth decay, teeth whitening, or oral health.
According to Chicago Dentist, Dr. Emery, there is some truth to the idea of oil working as a way to pull bacteria away from the teeth. Since most microorganisms in the mouth are single-celled organisms with a lipid membrane, the fat in the oil naturally sticks to the bacteria.
She recommends using a coconut oil over sunflower and sesame oil, which are omega-6 rich oils that are pro-inflammatory. She claims that there’s no doubting that oil pulling can remove bacteria in your mouth, and it can only enhance your dental health routine.
The earlier study on Ayurvedic medicine also concludes that oil pulling is a successful detoxifying remedy to help prevent illnesses. It also goes on to say that oil pulling can help promote tissue regeneration in your gums; however, there’s no substantial evidence on it efficiently promoting gum growth.
Is It Safe?
Oil pulling is safe to a degree. Just as you wouldn’t gulp down a tablespoon of mouthwash, you should avoid gulping down a tablespoon of oil, especially after it’s enveloped all the bacteria in your mouth. While the oil itself won’t make you sick, it renders it pointless if you don’t spit the bacteria out once you’ve pulled it away from your teeth.
It’s also not a kid-friendly practice, because kids have a stronger tendency to aspirate on oil. This has led to a number of cases of lipid pneumonia. Lipid pneumonia is an inflammation of the lung that occurs when a fat enters the bronchial tube. People with gastroesophageal reflux, the elderly, and children have a higher risk for contracting lipid pneumonia.
There are also reported negative side effects from oil pulling, like dry mouth, excessive thirst. And a loss of taste in the mouth. However, it’s not noted whether these side effects are caused by oil pulling itself or the ailments they’re trying to cure with the treatment.
What is Our Take On Oil Pulling?
With proper education, oil pulling can’t hurt your dental health. The most important thing to keep in mind is that it’s a complementary treatment. You should only add oil pulling into your dental health routine in tandem with brushing, flossing, and going to the dentist for routine checkups.
Oil pulling isn’t a replacement for your regular dental health routine, and there’s no evidence that it reverses cavities, tooth decay, or gum disease. Nonetheless, as we mentioned above, oil pulling will reduce the amount of Streptococcus mutans bacteria in your mouth, which is the bacteria known to cause illnesses like pneumonia, meningitis, sinusitis, and more. A buildup of this bacteria can enter the bloodstream and make you sick, so on a systemic level, oil pulling can only help your health routine.
Another thing to bear in mind is the kind of oil that you use. You’ll reap the most antibacterial benefits from coconut oil, because it contains Lauric acid. Pulling with oils that are high in omega-6s might cause an inflammatory response. Not to mention, as a whole, accidentally swallowing a bunch of oil that’s high in omega-6 is bad for your diet.
Besides the type of oil, you need to make sure that you pull the oil through your teeth for at least 20-30 minutes. If you find it difficult to find this much time for your oil pulling regime, you can start out at 10 minutes then work your way up to 20 minutes. It’s also imperative that you brush and rinse with water after oil pulling. It’s pointless to pull the bacteria out with oil, and then not rinse away the bacteria containing oil afterward.
Oil pulling with coconut oil might be more beneficial for pregnant women since hormonal disruptions can cause pregnancy gingivitis . Adding an extra routine to kick bad bacteria could be beneficial to their pregnancy health. This practice might be more appealing for pregnant women and people suffering from immune system disorders, because you get the added benefits of mouthwash without using harsh chemicals.
Another expert oil pulling tip is making sure you spit the leftover oil in the trash instead of the sink or toilet. Over time, oil can create a build up and clog your drains – especially coconut oil, which hardens at room temperature.
Our overall take on oil pulling is that there needs to be more research on larger populations to verify the legitimacy of oil pulling claims. We also think that there’s a lot of hype and over the top claims about oil pulling, like correcting hormone imbalances, supporting kidney function, and reducing insomnia.
If anything it reduces insomnia, because swooshing oil for 30 minutes a day is exhausting. Nonetheless, even if all of the benefits from oil pulling are a placebo effect, oil pulling won’t actually harm your mouth. So, why not give oil pulling a try? Just remember to continue brushing, flossing, and visiting your dentist regularly.
If you already suffer from significantly bad gum disease and gingivitis, get to the dentist. Your dentist will be able to recommend you to a specialist or specific mouthwashes that will help you get your gum disease under control.