Does Oil Pulling Work?

The Internet can easily overwhelm us with do-it-yourself ideas, home remedies, and traditional practices that claim to improve our lives and health. One traditional method of dental hygiene is called oil pulling. A practice of Eastern origin and thousands of years old, many believe it’s beneficial. Let’s discuss oil pulling in a little more detail so you can make an informed decision.

The Theory of Oil Pulling

Oil pulling is also called kavala or gundusha in its homeland of India. The practice involves swishing a tablespoon of oil in your mouth and then spitting it out. It’s recommended to do this on an empty stomach with an edible oil like sesame or sunflower oil. Most practitioners use coconut oil since it contains lauric acid, known for its anti-microbial properties. Practitioners avoid swallowing the oil.

The primary theory to explain oil pulling is that when microorganisms in the mouth come in contact with the fatty oil, they naturally adhere to each other. This adherence is hopefully stronger than the microorganisms’ attachment to your mouth. When the oil gets spit out, the thought is that the microorganisms go along with it. The claimed benefits include helping to fight gingivitis, plaque buildup, cavities and bad breath. Other claims include less jaw pain from TMJ, alleviation of headaches and hangovers, and even producing whiter teeth. Many of these benefits have never been scientifically verified, while study sizes for oil pulling have been somewhat small, leaving results in question.

The Practice of Oil Pulling

Basically, you would take a tablespoon of your chosen oil and softly swish it around in your mouth for 15 to 20 minutes. Many people begin with swishing a teaspoon of oil for 5 minutes and work their way up. It’s recommended not to spit the oil down a sink, as it could clog your pipes. Instead, spit it out into a bag or trash receptacle. Although users say it takes at least two weeks of consistent use to see benefits, some people find it nearly impossible to continue oil pulling after 4 to 5 days.

Words of Caution About Oil Pulling

Oil pulling is not a substitute for brushing or flossing. The beneficial results of brushing and flossing are clearly documented after years of study, whereas the benefits of oil pulling are mostly hearsay, anecdotal, and only lightly documented. A few of the reported drawbacks include indigestion from swallowing the oil, and pneumonia from the oil ending up in the lungs. The latter problem is especially risky in the midst of a pandemic involving a respiratory disease! Therefore, although some suggest gargling the oil, this significantly increases the risk of oil draining into the lungs and should not be attempted.

Final Thoughts on Oil Pulling

You can gain the benefits of oil pulling quickly and easily simply by keeping up a good routine of oral hygiene. Brush twice a day, floss at least once, and use mouthwash if you like. Altogether, it takes much less than ten minutes to do all of that every day! (And ordinary oral hygiene is much more palatable than swishing a tablespoon of oil.) To be certain about your oral health, see your dentist at the Placerville Dental Group at least twice a year. Make an appointment online, or give us a call and we can talk about it over the phone.


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