Oil pulling, for those who are unfamiliar, is a common Ayurvedic treatment for oral health and hygiene. Many claims have been made regarding the practice of oil pulling, some going so far as that oil pulling can detoxify your body, but many of these are unfounded at this moment in time.
However, what does redeem the practice of oil pulling is its ability to actually clean the mouth of bacteria that contribute to gum inflammation (gingivitis) and foul mouth odor (halitosis).
Instead of patting ourselves on the back for being “good skeptics” like those who smugly endorse “science based medicine” to disdain those hokey home remedies out there, like true skeptics we’re going to look at the available evidence and learn how to try it out for ourselves.
- 1 What does the science say about the efficacy of oil pulling?
- 2 How to use oil pulling
- 3 Conclusion
What does the science say about the efficacy of oil pulling?
The funny thing about all of these scientific studies is they seem to be mainly from India, the home of ayurveda.
Western “science based medicine,” while effective, seems to have little interest in investigating and potentially validating old and inexpensive home remedies and treatments in favor of corporate pharmaceuticals that can be patented and monopolized. (On the other hand, if you sell oils, promoting this practice would be a boon for your business.)
Oil pulling cleans the mouth
In “Mechanism of oil-pulling therapy – in vitro study,” 1 the potential cleansing properties of sesame oil were investigated. They found that the sesame oil alone did not have any antibacterial properties, however the saponification and emulsifying action of the oil does seem to lend credence to its use as a cleanser.
Oil pulling equally effective as chlorhexidine at controlling halitosis
Chlorhexidine is a common antiseptic used in mouthwash preparations and in other applications. 2
In “Comparative efficacy of oil pulling and chlorhexidine on oral malodor: a randomized controlled trial,” 3 sesame oil, chlorhexidine and a placebo control were compared. After the three week trial, it was found that the sesame oil and chlorhexidine groups showed little difference in their effectiveness across several criteria for plaque index, gingival index, bacterial colony counts, and organoleptic score (the actual mouth odor). Both sesame oil and chlorhexidine were far more effective than placebo at reducing bad breath based on organoleptic scores.
Another similar study 4 had similar findings regarding the effectiveness of oil pulling on halitosis and the bacterial culprits behind it.
Oil pulling and plaque-induced gingivitis
In “Effect of oil pulling on plaque induced gingivitis: a randomized, controlled, triple-blind study,” 5 the authors examined the efficacy of sesame oil with chlorhexidine as a control in reducing gum inflammation from plaque buildup in a group of age-matched adolescent males suffering from the condition.
The study found that sesame oil did indeed reduce the plaque index and bacterial colonies with about the same effectiveness as chlorhexidine.
How to use oil pulling
Many guides exist for oil pulling, but it’s dead freaking simple: you swish a spoonful of oil around in your mouth for 10 to 20 minutes, usually longer if you have just started. No gargling. Try not to swallow it (it’s not pleasant).
These guides also tend to suggest that you do it before breakfast. I find that doing it before eating seems to help keep the mouth clean. My memory might be foggy, but I recall a suggestion not to do it after a meal to avoid nausea. I have not experienced nausea when pulling after a meal except when I used ghee (clarified butter oil). It was a failed experiment.
I incorporate it into my morning routine, usually swilling the oil around while I make breakfast, choose my clothes and check email. It’s hard to talk with housemates with a mouthful of oil, but they aren’t talkative most mornings and they understand anyway.
Does it matter which oil I use?
All of the studies above have used sesame oil, and this is apparently the traditional ayurvedic recommendation. I have used coconut oil and even olive oil for oil pulling in the past, and prefer and use coconut oil.
You could use whatever you have on hand, however, keep in mind that the flavor of the oil is important. I have used ghee, olive oil and even canola in the past and they may not be pleasant to keep in your mouth for very long. Canola even seemed to irritate my gums.
What can I expect with regular oil pulling?
You won’t get a minty fresh feeling like you would using Listerine, and you won’t reverse months or years of neglect to your oral health, but you can expect your gums to feel less irritated if they are, and you can expect your mouth to feel cleaner.
On mornings that I do oil pulling, my mouth feels a lot cleaner throughout the day and my gums tend to feel less irritated if they are at all. I never had a bad breath problem, but still no one has complained after oil pulling.
Generally I resort to xylitol-based gum to keep my teeth clean and happy after indulging in the sugary food products they feed to the masses, but in a pinch I have used oil pulling to stave off gum irritation. Yes, I am the weird person who will ask you for mustard or oil in your house if I need some.
Oil pulling won’t fill your cavities or give your teeth a thorough cleansing, nor will it magically detoxify your body, but it will help keep your mouth feeling fresh and clean. The research suggests it might be able to help reduce gingivitis, plaque and the bacteria that cause bad breath. It won’t replace your dentist or your toothbrush and floss, but I think it can make a good addition to your oral hygiene routine.
So if you have some oil on hand, give it a shot each morning before breakfast, it just might work for you.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||PubMed – Mechanism of oil-pulling therapy – in vitro study.|
|2.||↑||Wikipedia — Chlorhexidine|
|3.||↑||PubMed – Comparative efficacy of oil pulling and chlorhexidine on oral malodor: a randomized controlled trial.|
|4.||↑||PubMed – Effect of oil pulling on halitosis and microorganisms causing halitosis: a randomized controlled pilot trial.|
|5.||↑||PubMed – Effect of oil pulling on plaque induced gingivitis: a randomized, controlled, triple-blind study.|