Oil Pulling – My Take
Oil pulling has gotten a lot of air time lately, and so I thought I would try to find out what exactly it is and what the benefits may (or may not) be. I was shocked how many views and shares a video that we recently posted on our facebook page received and so thought that I should do a bit of my own research to better understand oil pulling. In case you missed it, here is the video:
Please remember that I am not a physician and am simply looking for some clarity about this old/new practice. It’s difficult to keep up with all the trends out there, but I’m interested in trying to develop an understanding and opinion to help guide patients.
Oil pulling definition:
Oil pulling is known as “Kavala” or “Gandusha”. It is an ancient remedy where oil is swished or held in the mouth. Some Ayurvedic studies suggest it can benefit conditions such as headaches, migraines, diabetes, gingivitis and teeth whitening.
Use 1 tablespoon of food oil (most commonly coconut oil) swish and “pull” through teeth for 20 minutes once a day. After spitting, rinse with salt water to rinse away any excess oil then continue with standard brushing and flossing.
There are not many scientific studies to support oil pulling.
I was able to find a few, that suggested some benefit in the reduction of certain oral bacteria over a longer period of time (1-2 weeks of oil pulling).
Things to keep in mind about this study:
- The control group was small, only 20 people
- The oil used was sesame, not coconut
- Both studies were conducted by the same author, who seems to be looking to support these treatments (biased?)
Bacteria reduction was greater in those using the Chlorhexidine rinse, although not as effective, there was a significant reduction in bacteria in those using oil pulling especially at the 1 and 2 week time frame.
My initial questions:
After reading through some of the literature, I have a couple of questions.
- Does the oil actually “kill” the bacteria, or is it the act of swishing for that length of time that has a mechanical cleaning action?
Coconuts are high in saturated fatty acids, which contain lauric acid (about 40-50%). This lauric acid is known to be helpful to the human body. It is very well known for its antimicrobial actions; it inhibits Strep mutans that are the primary bacteria that cause tooth decay.
So, if this is the case, then the answer is that yes, coconut oil actually does help to lessens the bacterial load in the mouth by “killing” the bacteria, not simply by rinsing them away.
Having said that there is some mechanical benefit as well, most microorganisms inhabiting the mouth consist of a single cell, these cells are covered with a lipid (fatty) membrane. When these cells come into contact with oil, “a fat,” they naturally adhere to each other. Bacteria hiding under crevices in the gums and in pores and tubules within the teeth are sucked out of their hiding places and held firmly in the solution which is then spit out.
- Does it loose its effectiveness if the rinsing time is shortened to let’s say 2 minutes?
This is a good question; I have yet to find a firm answer regarding the timing. Some articles suggest that it can be done for as little as 5 minutes, but the consensus seems to be 20 minutes for max effectiveness.
Negative impact of oil pulling
Just because something is deemed “natural” doesn’t mean it may not come with some risks. It is important to know what these may be.
Lipoid pneumonia, this is a chemical lung disease caused by aspirating, or breathing in, small amounts of oil. Swishing for such a long period of time can certainly put you at risk for this, so be extra careful.
Also, be sure to spit into the trash can, not your sink or toilet as oils can easily clog your drains.
My professional opinion:
For the record, a regular oil-pulling routine should not replace routine dental hygiene visits and traditional at-home oral care and it does not reverse the effects of tooth decay.
Don’t give up brushing (well) for at least 2 minutes and flossing to make room for oil pulling.
If you think that this is something that you can easily add into your morning routine then I say go for it! But just ensure that it is not at the expense of other very important activities that are proven to be a great defence against all sorts of mouth issues. These things all need to work together for maximum effectiveness.
I would not recommend oil pulling as a comprehensive home care regime, but it can be a good way to enhance tooth brushing, flossing and regular visits to your dental hygienist.
For people that are concerned about chemicals found in mass marketing dental products, oil pulling is a great “natural” way to get some antibacterial effects, which will no doubt help with bad breath and gingivitis.
This may be a good adjunctive therapy for people who cannot brush, perhaps due to mouth ulcers, or bad gag reflex during to pregnancy?
This takes a lot of commitment which is another reason I wouldn’t jump to recommending it. Adding 20 minutes a day to an oral care regime is a lot to ask of someone, many patients struggle with brushing for a full 2 minutes!
Have you tried it, do you love it? Hate it? We are interested in hearing from you.
The internet is overflowing with information on this subject; here are a few links that I found helpful.