Oil Pulling is sometimes called oil gargling and it is an old Ayurvedic method of cleaning the mouth that is said to have originated in India some 2,000 years ago. Currently there is excitement about oil pulling in online articles and blogs, and if you have bad breath or gum disease, oil pulling may be worth considering. This may also be useful if you suffer from chronic illness, asthma, arthritis or fatigue.
Sunflower, sesame or coconut oils are the oils most often used, and a small spoonful is swished around in the mouth for 15-20 minutes. Proponents suggest you do this first thing in the morning before eating, and then spit out the milky white liquid – being sure not to swallow it (since it is said to be full of bacteria and toxins). Be careful where you spit out the oil so that the liquid does not go down a drain or onto vegetation, since it will kill grass and flowers. After spitting, rinse your mouth with warm water and then brush your teeth. In essence oil pulling may “pull” disease bacteria away from gum pockets and from around teeth, thus reducing the number of bacteria in the mouth and the toxic burden they create, so eventually less toxins are absorbed by the body. Oil pulling may help improve mouth health for some people, but others should be cautious, since oil pulling can make certain mouth problems worse.
A review of the science on oil pulling shows most of the studies are from India and they compare the effectiveness of oil pulling with aggressive mouthwashes like chlorhexidine. These studies show oil pulling may be useful for gingivitis, bad breath and dry mouth, but there are no studies to show it is useful for tooth decay. There are many testimonials from people who say they have experienced healthier gums and fresher breath from using this method of mouth cleaning, and no reports of harm. Some researchers claim saliva interacts with fatty acids in the oils to activate detoxifying enzymes in saliva. Others suggest the oil emulsifies bacteria and loosens them from teeth, cleaning away any fungi at the same time. The most probable explanation is that certain oils contain lignans, which are compounds that have antioxidant and antimicrobial activity. Sesame oil has three lignans (sesamin, sesamolin and sesaminol) and contains high amounts of vitamin E, which could also contribute to the successes.
To date there is not much science supporting oil pulling because the studies were too small, too short, or incomplete. This does not mean oil pulling is not useful, but be aware it does not appear to control cavities and is not recommended for very young children, especially those with early childhood caries (ECC). In addition anyone with gum recession or sensitivity should approach oil pulling with caution, since this technique may damage biofilm and pellicle proteins, essential components of a healthy mouth that govern mineralization and support gum health. For this reason oil pulling should probably be a short-term or periodic adjunct to oral care, recommended mainly for people fighting periodontal disease.
I wrote the above post just about 3 years ago. Since then there are more people trying oil pulling and some are finding their teeth become very sensitive and they experience gum recession. Watch the video below for my update:
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