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All About Oil Pulling

September 07, 2014
This guy is probably not oil pulling, but his mouth is full and his friend has a beard.

Have you heard of oil pulling? This topic is so trendy right now that even my buddy, who - bless him - takes little more than a passing interest in my profession, asked me about it the other day. What is it? Does it work? Is it all it’s made out to be? What’s with the weird name? As is my custom, I did a little digging to get to the bottom of things for you.

Oil pulling is an ancient method of cleaning the teeth using sesame oil, safflower oil and other vegetable oils (coconut oil is also popular). One takes a teaspoon of oil into their mouth and swishes it around like mouthwash for up to 20 minutes. The practice is meant to clean and whiten the teeth and remove bacteria.

Oil pulling is rooted in a system of natural medicine called Ayurveda, which dates back 5,000 years. Supposedly Tibetan medicine, as well as Traditional Chinese and Greek medicines, embrace many of the techniques described by Ayurveda. So, there’s a bit of heft behind the practice of oil pulling, but does it do anything for your oral health?

Oil Pulling: The Evidence

Anecdotal evidence suggests that swishing with some oils reduces bacterial count around teeth. Studies on the subject are hard to find. One suggests that subjects practicing oil pulling for up to 20 minutes on a regular basis reduced the amount of dental plaque in their mouths. Another study comparing oil pulling to the use of a clorhexidine rinse found clorhexidine to be far more effective in reducing certain bacterial levels in plaque and saliva.

Does Oil Pulling Help With Whitening?

In my opinion, no it doesn’t. The whitening effect that people describe is likely the result of the oil passing regularly over the teeth and physically removing plaque from the surface of the teeth. This would bring out the whiter color of the teeth underneath, but there is no evidence pointing to oil pulling as actually bleaching the internal color of teeth.

Oil Pulling Replacing a Dental Regime

In fairness to ancient medicine, there is no substitute for accepted modern oral hygiene: brushing and flossing. In the absence of gum disease (periodontitis) these methods are effective in keeping the bacterial count in the mouth at healthy levels. If you’d like to complement this regimen try rinsing with salt water for a few minutes each day. This also helps to reduce bacteria and inflammation in the mouth. Oil Pulling will likely do the same, but you’ll have to be ok with the taste, the 20 minutes of your daily life spent with oil in your mouth, and the bizarre name.

If any of you have tried oil pulling or have any comments or ideas, feel free to send an email or leave a comment.


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