An Introduction to Oil Pulling
Oil pulling has recently become a popular homeopathic method for treating a variety of ailments, many of which affect the oral cavity. The practice comes from Ayurveda, a medical system established in India 5,000 years ago that uses natural remedies as cures.
Foreign occupiers of India suppressed the practice of Ayurveda, but it has re-emerged as a popular form homeopathic, holistic medicine both on the Subcontinent and throughout the world. As people have rediscovered the system, the Ayurvedic practice of oil pulling has gained traction as a means of promoting oral health and detoxifying the body.
Oil Pulling: What It Is and How to Perform It
Oil pulling is the practice of swishing oil extracted from edible sources in the mouth in order to cleanse it of bacteria, fungus, and other disease-causing organisms. It is thought that the oil collects these noxious agents during the process and rids the oral cavity of them when expelled. The process also activates enzymes that supposedly extract toxins from the blood.
Most cooking oils are suitable for oil pulling, though researchers mostly performed their studies with either sunflower oil or sesame oil. Many homeopathic medicine practitioners also advocate the use of coconut oil. The viscosity of oil might help collect bacteria.
To conduct oil pulling therapy, adults generally take one tablespoon of oil (children under the age of 15 can take one teaspoon) into the mouth and swish it around their teeth for 10 to 15 minutes before expelling it. The therapy should be performed on an empty stomach in the morning and followed by brushing. Advocates of oil pulling recommend conducting it at least once and up to three times per day.
Oil Pulling and Oral Health
Limited studies have shown oil pulling to be most beneficial to oral health in treating plaque, gingivitis, dental caries, and halitosis (bad breath). Some studies have even found it to be more effective than chlorhexidine (an anti-bacterial mouthwash). However, more comprehensive research must be conducted.
In 2007, a peer-reviewed study of the effect of oil pulling on plaque noted an 18-30% decrease on the amount of plaque in the subjects' oral cavity over a period of 45 days.
It is not exactly known why oil pulling might be responsible for a reduction in plaque. Researchers believe that the viscosity of the oil might prevent plaque from collecting on the tooth surface.
Furthermore, the insoluble fats in oil tend to disperse widely in water, possibly allowing them to clean in ‘hard-to-reach places’ during oil pulling.
Plaque is the most common cause of gingivitis, or inflammation of the gums. The same study that observed a reduction in plaque as the result of oil pulling also noted that gingivitis decreased in the subjects by more than 50% overall.
Dental caries, commonly known as tooth decay or a cavity, is another condition brought on by the presence of plaque. One study measuring the effect of oil pulling on the presence of a specific bacteria found in plaque that causes decay found that the presence of the microorganisms decreased by an average of 20% among 10 participants over the course of 40 days. The researchers hypothesize that the bacteria in the body could be expelled through the tongue, from where they adhere to the oil and then exit the body when the oil is spit out.
Halitosis, or bad breath, can originate from a source inside or outside the oral cavity, but the vast majority of cases originate inside of it. Common causes are gingivitis, gum disease, and tongue coating. One study found that oil pulling was equally effective as chlorhexidine at eliminating these microorganisms and relieving halitosis.
Whiter Teeth and Relief of Bleeding Gums
Some practitioners and patients of Ayurvedic oral medicine claim that oil pulling relieves bleeding gums and produces whiter teeth. As of this writing, no scientific studies exist that support these claims. It is possible, though, that the reduction of plaque and bacteria associated with oil pulling strengthens gums, make them less susceptible to bleeding. The saponification of the oil might also clean stains from the teeth, leaving them whiter in appearance. Claims of these benefits, though, are anecdotal and require scientific research to support them.
Oil pulling is an age-old technique for cleansing the oral cavity of plaque and bacteria, which helps maintain oral health. The therapy has seen resurgence among natural-health practitioners in recent years, many of whom claim that it successfully treats plaque, gingivitis, dental caries, halitosis, bleeding gums, and discoloured teeth. Limited research supports some of these claims. Until such research is conducted, patients should consider oil pulling only as a supplement to proven oral-health practices.