Oil Pulling – Miracle Cure or Waste of Time?
Talk to any Naturopath or lifestyle blogger and they will be raving about oil pulling – the act of swirling oil around in your mouth.
The web is full of stories claiming amazing results from this seemingly innocuous procedure.
It almost seems implausible that swishing oil in the mouth could benefit one’s joint, heart and immune health.
Let’s start with the basics, oil pulling actually has a pretty long history, since Ayurvedic medicine times.
Then it was called “oil gargling” – but that sounds kind of gross and is inaccurate because you don’t actually gargle the oil.
Oil pulling is the process of putting some oil into the mouth, traditionally sesame oil, but often coconut oil is recommended for its antibacterial qualities.
The person then swishes the oil around and around, letting it move around and between the teeth, around the tongue, gums, etc., ideally for 20 minutes.
The basic purpose is to “pull” bad bacteria from the mouth and spit it out in the oil when you’re finished (never swallow after oil pulling).
Oils are lipophilic, meaning they attract other oils. The fatty layers in our skin and mouth are well-known dumping grounds for fat-soluble toxins.
The claims of health benefits linked to this very simple therapy have been extraordinary. However, many such claims are just anecdotal, without any research to substantiate them.
But before you throw your “swishing oil” in the trash, there are real benefits to be had.
Let’s take a look at the facts.
The Truth and the Research
Oil pulling is clearly mentioned in the classic and most esteemed textbook of Ayurveda, the Caraka Samhita. Caraka says this about oil pulling:
Keeping of oil gargle provides strength in jaws and voice, development of the face, maximum taste and relish of food.
One does not suffer from dryness of throat, lip cracking and teeth become firmly rooted.
The teeth do not ache or become sensitive and can chew the hardest food items.
A 2007 study looking into the effect of oil pulling (with sunflower oil) on plaque and gingivitis on oral soft and hard tissues.
Results found that after 45 days of oil pulling, subjects showed a statistically significant reduction in gingivitis.
In another study, the swishing of the oil in the mouth and pulling the oil between the teeth were shown to have a saponification (detergent or cleansing) effect on the oral mucosa.
Numerous studies citing similar results very much support the original statements made by Caraka Samhita more than 3000 years ago.
The benefits of oil pulling on plaque as a natural cleansing agent for the teeth and gums are all very real.
But can the benefits of oil pulling go beyond the mouth?
The Mouth-Body Connection
Although oil pulling is commonly used to aid people in healing their oral health issues, such as gingivitis, tooth sensitivity, plaque buildup, and more, it also has been found to actually improve a person’s overall physical health.
It is believed that these oils help the lymphatic system of the body as harmful bacteria are removed and beneficial microflora are given with a healthy environment to flourish.
Because of this holistic perspective, oil pulling has been used as a preventative health measure for many other conditions.
Other possible benefits of oil pulling for overall health include:
- Brighter, whiter teeth
- Healthier gums
- Prevents bad breath
- Increased energy
- Clearer mind
- Decreased headaches
- Clearer sinuses
- Alleviated allergies
- Better sleep
- Clearer skin
How To Oil Pull
Oil pulling is best done first thing in the morning on an empty stomach.
Spoon a tablespoon of organic, cold-pressed vegetable oil (I like coconut best) into your mouth, and swish it around for 20 minutes before spitting it out.
The oil mixes with the saliva, turning it into a thin, white liquid. Lipids in the oils begin to pull out toxins from the saliva.
As the oil is swished around the mouth, teeth, gums and tongue, the oil continues to absorb toxins, and usually ends up turning thick and viscous and white.
Never swallow the oil and be sure to brush your teeth and rinse your mouth thoroughly afterwards.
You may even want a separate toothbrush to use just for brushing your teeth after oil pulling.
The first few times your gag reflexes might rear themselves and make it difficult keeping the oil in your mouth, but persistence will triumph and usually by the third day, this will disappear.
While more studies need to be done on the oil pulling technique, it is clear that the mechanism of oil acting as a pulling agent for toxins is known.
As a result, it is very plausible that exposing the skin—and particularly the oral mucosa—to oils like sesame and coconut may have a beneficial and detoxifying pulling effect.
Why not give it a go – there’s not a lot of expense or time lost in swishing coconut oil around your mouth for 20 minutes, during which time you can do something else, like take that shower, check your emails, make breakfast.
To reap the full rewards of coconut oil and its many uses, check out the post below.
Asokan S, Emmadi P, Chamundeswari R. Effect of oil pulling on plaque induced gingivitis: A randomized, controlled, triple-blind study. Indian J Dent Res. 2009; 20:47– 51. [PubMed: 19336860]
Effect of oil pulling on Streptococcus mutans count in plaque and saliva using Dentocult SM Strip mutans test: a randomized, controlled, triple-blind study. J Indian Soc Pedod Prev Dent. 2008 Mar;26(1):12-7.