Oil Pulling: An Ancient Practice for Oral Health and Overall Wellness
Oil pulling is an ancient Ayurvedic practice that involves swishing oil in the mouth for a period of time, usually 10-20 minutes, before spitting it out. This practice is said to improve oral hygiene and promote overall health by removing harmful bacteria from the mouth and promoting detoxification.
The idea behind oil pulling is that the oil acts as a natural cleanser, pulling bacteria from the mouth, throat, and sinuses. The oil is believed to adhere to the surface of the teeth, gums, and tongue, where it traps bacteria and toxins. When the oil is spit out, these harmful substances are removed from the body along with the oil.
The mechanism by which oil pulling works is believed to be related to the chemical properties of the oil itself. The oil used for oil pulling is typically a high-quality, unrefined vegetable oil such as coconut, sesame, or sunflower oil. These oils are composed of medium-chain fatty acids, which have been shown to have antimicrobial properties. When swished in the mouth, the oil mixes with saliva and binds to the biofilm and plaque that form on teeth and gums. The fatty acids in the oil may disrupt the lipid bilayer of the bacterial cell wall, leading to the breakdown and elimination of harmful bacteria from the mouth. Additionally, the swishing action of oil pulling is thought to help dislodge debris and bacteria from hard-to-reach areas of the mouth, promoting overall oral hygiene.
To perform oil pulling, follow these simple steps:
Start with a tablespoon of high-quality oil such as coconut, sesame, or sunflower oil.
Swish the oil around in your mouth for 10-20 minutes, making sure to push and pull the oil through your teeth and around your gums.
Spit the oil out into the trash (not down the sink, as it can clog pipes) and rinse your mouth thoroughly with water.
Brush your teeth as usual.
While the practice of oil pulling has been around for centuries, there is limited scientific evidence to support its efficacy. A 2014 systematic review of the literature found that there was insufficient evidence to support the use of oil pulling as a therapy for oral health conditions, including plaque-induced gingivitis and oral malodor (1).
However, some small studies have suggested that oil pulling may have some benefits for oral health. For example, a 2015 study found that oil pulling with sesame oil for 10 minutes daily for 14 days reduced plaque and gingivitis in a group of adolescents (2). Another study published in the Nigerian Medical Journal in 2016 found that oil pulling with coconut oil reduced the number of bacteria in the mouth and improved oral hygiene in a group of adults (3).
Overall, while the scientific evidence is limited, oil pulling may be worth trying as an adjunct to regular oral hygiene practices such as brushing and flossing. It is important to note that oil pulling is not a replacement for dental care and should not be used as a sole treatment for oral health conditions.
Peedikayil FC, Sreenivasan P, Narayanan A. Effect of coconut oil in plaque related gingivitis--A preliminary report. Niger Med J. 2015 Mar-Apr;56(2):143-7. doi: 10.4103/0300-1652.153406. PMID: 25969719; PMCID: PMC4382606.
Sharath A, Muthu MS, Rathna PV, et al. Effect of oil pulling on plaque induced gingivitis: a randomized, controlled, triple-blind study. Indian J Dent Res. 2015;26(5):491-494. doi:10.4103/0970-9290.167628.
Peedikayil FC;Remy V;John S;Chandru TP;Sreenivasan P;Bijapur GA; (2016, October 24). Comparison of antibacterial efficacy of coconut oil and chlorhexidine on streptococcus mutans: An in vivo study. Journal of International Society of Preventive & Community Dentistry. Retrieved May 7, 2023, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27891311/