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Examining the Benefits of Oil Pulling
Last year, a close family member was dealing with a pretty nasty oral surgery. In helping research the procedure, I learned a lot about the mouth.
Poor oral health may contribute to health problems including heart disease, osteoporosis and Alzheimers. My familys dental history is spotty at best, so I decided it was time to fine-tune my own oral hygiene routine.
I did my research, consulted dentists, and formed a plan, which included upgrading to a Sonicare toothbrush, switching to an Environmental Working Group-approved toothpaste, and doubling my floss routine (morning and night).
But there was one more thing I was curious about. Whats all this hype about oil pulling?
So, what the %$#@ is oil pulling?
It sounds like some tough job in the labor sector, but oil pulling just means rolling a bunch of oil around in your mouth. Thats it.
Swish about a tablespoon of edible oil (olive, coconut, sesame, sunflower) for 10-15 minutes once a day, and proponents say itll take care of bad breath, reduce your risk for gingivitis, whiten your teeth, and remedy maladies like acne and headaches by removing toxins from the body.
Does it work?
Just because something got mentioned in an ancient Ayurvedic text doesnt automatically mean its a good idea (see: bloodletting).
But there is some logic behind the claims. When fat in the oil meets certain compounds in the mouth, it makes a not-bad-tasting soap, which emulsifies and may clean the mouth by scrubbing away harmful micro-organisms. Oils also have antioxidant and antimicrobial properties.
What does science say?
Most studies on oil pulling are small, short, or incomplete. But that doesnt mean the practice is useless. It just means we dont know...yet.Lets take a look at some claims.
Eliminating bad breath
About 85 percent of halitosis originates in the mouth. Studies indicate that oil pulling is as effective at tackling bad breath as a common ingredient in mouthwash.
Can oil pulling reduce the buildup? One study indicates its as effective for plaque-induced gingivitis as a common mouthwash ingredient, but theres no data yet on receding gums.
If oil pulling can remove gunk from your mouth, whitening may make sense. Unfortunately, there isnt any published research on this, so all claims are anecdotal.
Preventing heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimers
Its a fact that poor oral health is linked to these problems (in fact, dentists often spot Type 2 diabetes before patients doctors do). But theres no hard evidence that oil pulling can reduce your risk.
In one small, informal experiment, oil pulling had some benefits for patients with Sjogrens syndrome, an autoimmune condition that damages salivary glands and causes dry mouth.
Removing toxins from the blood/body
It may be in the realm of possibility for oil pulling to take toxins from the mouth, but oral fluids dont seem to be an exit from the bloodstream. So any oil in your mouth wont come into contact with blood, nor will it extract anything from it. Needless to say: no data.
Why oil pulling may be worth a try
If youre the kind of person who reads labels, you might be tempted to try oil pulling. I was.
Major toothpaste and mouthwash products contain junk like triclosan, FD&C colorings, and carbomer -- chemicals wed never tolerate in food but still swish around our mouths.
In many cases, such chemicals dont work as advertised. Some may be harmful to our health.
The alcohol in mouthwash actually makes your breath worse over time. And the bleach in teeth whitening kits is more likely to damage your gums and tooth nerves than coconut oil.
So now I do my oil pulling for 10 minutes every morning, while I get dressed and make my bed.
I do think my breath is generally better, but since I also altered other aspects of my oral health routine, I cant chalk it up to oil pulling alone.
I didnt expect sweeping changes. Rather, I was looking to improve my mouth care routine in total and nix unnecessary chemicals. Mission accomplished!
Want to try it? Heres what to do
Theres no point in oil pulling if you can't get toothbrushing right. So start with the basics.
Brush at least twice a day with a good toothbrush, and floss twice, too. Use a toothpaste with simple ingredients, and eat to support dental health.
If youre interested in oil pulling:
Make sure its right for you. Especially if you have sensitive teeth or gum recession, check with your dentist.
Consider doing a before-and-after test. See if your dentist notices a difference after a few months.
Experiment with oil type. Coconut oil in particular may have antimicrobial properties.
Try adding other essential oils. Many like peppermint, thyme, lavender, tea tree, oregano, and basil kill pathogens or stop bacteria from sticking.
When it comes to dental health, you don't have to do it all at
once. Figure out which small changes you can commit to now and start
with those. You can build your routine up over time.