Nothing about the phrase "oil pulling" sounds pleasant, but that hasn't stopped countless natural health enthusiasts from giving it a try. The most popular claim is oiling pulling improves oral health. But is it true?
What Is Oil Pulling?
According to a review published in 2011 in the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, oil pulling is a traditional therapy used by practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine, which is traditional Indian medicine. It's mentioned in the Ayurvedic text Charaka Samhita under the names Gandusha or Kavala.
Oil pulling doesn't involve drills or physical pain, despite its less-than-enticing name. The "pulling" refers to the supposed pulling action of the oil within the mouth. What is it pulling out? Bacteria and toxins are the target, helping to cleanse the body to prevent illness. To get this benefit, you need to swish and pull the oil through between the teeth for up to 20 minutes. The most commonly recommended oil for this purpose is sesame oil, but sunflower oil and coconut oil are also used.
Possible Benefits of Oil Pulling
So, what can gargling cooking oil do for you? According to Ayurveda, oil pulling has widespread health benefits within the body and can be beneficial for many physical conditions, including asthma and diabetes as well as everyday aches and pains, like headaches. It's also said to help hydrate and clear the skin, providing relief for those with acne.
The most widely discussed possible benefit of oil pulling is the improvement of oral hygiene and the appearance of the teeth. It's suggested moving the oil around in the mouth works similar to, or better than any mouthwash on the market at removing bacteria from the surface of the gums and teeth. This prevents the formation of plaque that can lead to cavities, gingivitis and tooth decay. It's also said oil pulling will help freshen the breath and whiten the teeth -- a much more comfortable and less damaging method than bleaching.
What does the research say? According to a 2008 study published in the Journal of the Indian Society of Pedodontics and Preventative Dentistry, gargling with sesame oil for 10 minutes in the morning before brushing significantly reduced the count of Streptococcus mutans in teenaged boys after two weeks. After two weeks of treatment, participants saw similar results to regular mouthwash. This remains the primary study supporting oil pulling, and it's also referenced in that 2011 review.
Larger studies with more diverse participants will need to be conducted for additional evidence to prove oil pulling is beneficial for oral health. In the meantime, there aren't any known side effects to oil pulling that would make it hazardous to try. After all, it's more gentle than mouthwash made with alcohol or bleaching treatments for the teeth. So why not?
If you're going to try it, make sure to let your dentist know at your next cleaning. They can help you determine if it's working for you by examining your entire mouth.
Tips for Trying Oil Pulling
There is a right way and a wrong way to try any alternative therapy. Here are some tips for oil pulling, so you know you're doing it right to get the most out of it:
Go for a high quality sesame, sunflower or coconut oil. Look for organic, extra virgin and cold pressed if possible.
Only use an amount you can comfortably swish around in your mouth. Usually around 2 tbsp.
Work your way up to the 20 total minutes a day gradually.
Do NOT swallow the oil when you're done.
Rinse out your mouth and brush thoroughly after oil pulling.
Store oils out of direct sunlight to prevent them from going rancid.
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