It has been a recent health trend, but many people may not know about oil pulling.
What is Oil Pulling?
Oil pulling is a health remedy that involves swishing or holding oil in the mouth. In Ayurvedic terms, swishing is called “kavala graha”, and holding is referred to as “snigda gandoosha”. This traditional medicine uses the gargling methods “to treat imbalances of various doshas”.1 With Ayurveda, a dosha “is one of three bodily humors that make up one’s constitution”. Kapha (the body’s fluids), Vata (the wind or nervous system), and Pitta (bilious humour or digestion/metabolism), otherwise known as the doshas, are meant to exist in balance.2 Because Ayurveda tailors treatments to the individual, various oils may be suggested, including sesame oil, herbalized oils, sunflower oil, and coconut oil. Oil pulling is meant to improve systemic and oral health, and benefit sufferers of diabetes, migraines, headaches, acne, and asthma. Practitioners believe it can whiten teeth and pull toxins out, “thereby reducing inflammation”. While sesame oil can reduce oral bacteria and plaque, a study did not find it to be more effective than chlorhexidine. The mechanism behind oil pulling is still unknown, but it is thought that the oil may prevent bacteria or plaque from adhering to teeth. Some suggest that the practice increases salivary production to help detoxify the mouth. Oil pulling may also provide relief for dry mouth, which contributes to bacterial growth. It is also possible that “the prolonged and forceful mechanical action could play a part in dislodging bacteria”.3
The Oil Pulling Experience
Many people select coconut oil, and the swishing process takes about 20 minutes. The oil actually doubles in size as it mixes with the saliva. It should be spit out into the trash so as not to clog drains. Afterwards, it is necessary to rinse the mouth with salt water, brush the teeth, and floss. This process is generally repeated most days over two weeks. Coconut oil itself has vitamins E, A, D, and K. Vitamin E is an antioxidant and has “anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties” according to Dr. Katey Yeowart, MBBS MPH. Vitamin A is helpful to the immune system, vitamin D strengthens teeth and bones, and vitamin K is for clotting blood. For some, coconut oil may cause an allergic reaction, or contact dermatitis, so it is useful “to test in the crease of your elbow before putting it in your mouth”.4
Does it Work?
Ayurvedic medicine is thousands of years old. Recent studies have shown some support for oil pulling in terms of helping fight gingivitis, plaque, and microorganisms that contribute to bad breath. According to Jessica T. Emery, DMD, the microorganism cells have a fatty membrane and “when these cells come into contact with oil, a fat, they naturally adhere to each other”. Coconut oil has lauric acid, which is antimicrobial, so it is thought to work better than sunflower or sesame oil. Coconut oil may also help in the prevention of tooth decay. Only 5-10 minutes of gentle swishing may still have some benefits, but the oil pulling should stop if the jaw is aching. It is very important not to swallow the oil, and it is necessary to remember that flossing and brushing are important. Regular dental visits are also crucial. Per Emery, “It doesn’t reverse…tooth decay, but it’s a great supplemental therapy”.5