Oil pulling is an ancient Ayurvedic technique that involves swishing or "pulling" oil (usually coconut or sesame oil) in the mouth to reduce plaque and improve oral health.
It has been used in India for centuries, and is claimed to have myriad health benefits including whitening teeth, reducing cavities, improving skin, and many others effects.
While there is an abundance of anecdotal evidence for oil pulling (i.e. people trying it and saying it works), is there any research to back it up?
Research on Oil Pulling
There are not many studies on oil pulling, but the few that have been done show promise.
A 2009 study of 20 adolescent boys with plaque-induced gingivitis were randomly assigned to either do oil pulling with sesame oil every morning for 10 days, or a daily mouthwash with chlorhexidine (a standard treatment for gingivitis).
The study concluded that "oil pulling therapy showed a reduction in the plaque index, modified gingival scores, and total colony count of aerobic microorganisms in the plaque of adolescents with plaque-induced gingivitis."
Another study on the same participants also showed that oil pulling is equally as effective as chlorhexidine mouthwash for decreasing halitosis (bad breath).
The sample sizes for these studies are definitely small, but the beneficial results warrant further research in the use of oil pulling.
Is Oil Pulling Safe?
The plus side to the lack of research is that oil pulling is generally considered quite safe.
The are a couple documented cases of pneumonia resulting from aspired ("breathed in") oil, so the main caution is to make sure that you do not accidentally aspire the oil.
It is also advisable to avoid swallowing the oil after pulling, as it likely contains a variety of bacteria that could possibly cause harm.
How To Do Oil Pulling
Based on the limited but promising research, and the overall good safety profile, many people are willing to give oil pulling a try. But how do you actually do it?
Start by purchasing a good quality coconut oil (or sesame oil if you prefer).
When you first wake up, before you brush your teeth, take a teaspoon of oil and begin swishing it around your mouth, and 'pulling' it through your teeth.
Continue swishing and pulling the oil for 10-20 minutes (some recommend doing this while in the shower or while making breakfast).
After 10 to 20 minutes, spit the oil out and rinse your mouth with water. Then brush your teeth as usual.
Try this for a few weeks, and see if you notice a difference.
Have you tried oil pulling, and did you notice any benefits? Leave a comment below!
Dr. Tomah Phillips, ND