Swishing a tablespoon of vegetable oil in your mouth for 10-20 minutes to clean teeth--known as "oil pulling"--is the subject of many natural health blogs. It has been traditional practice for centuries in India where coconut or sesame oils have been used. But with all of its history and current popularity, is there actual science to back the reported benefits of oil pulling? Cleaning teeth is one thing, curing diseases as many claim it does, is another.
The Science Behind Oil Pulling
There are a number of studies that have shown the efficacy of oil pulling at cleaning teeth and improving oral health.
This 2015 study found that oil pulling with coconut oil decreased plaque formation and gingivitis.
This 2014 study concluded that oil pulling was as effective as an antiseptic mouthwash in decreasing bad breath.
This 2011 study found that oil pulling reduced bad breath and bacteria as well as an antiseptic mouthwash.
This 2011 study discovered that during oil pulling, the oil will break down and emulsify with saliva, thus accounting for some of its mechanical cleaning action.
This 2009 study found that oil pulling improved gum health and reduced plaque in children.
This 2008 study found that oil pulling reduced cavity-causing bacteria.
But, while the scientifically-backed benefits of oil pulling for oral health are clear, larger claims may not be. Reports of various diseases being cured by oil pulling have not been backed with scientific evidence. Balancing hormones, reducing arthritis, reducing insomnia, eliminating allergies, treating chronic pain, etc are some of the unfounded claims you may see. But, while research may not back these claims, some people may still see overall health benefits from oil pulling.
Oral health is strongly tied to our overall health. Patients with mitral valve prolapse (a heart condition that makes one susceptible to infection of the heart among other things) are advised to brush and floss regularly to avoid infections. (Source) Heart disease has been linked to chronic oral infection and inflammation. (Source)(Source) Research has also tied periodontal disease to depression. (Source) Scientists have also implicated periodontal bacteria in oral cancers. (Source) Because oil pulling improves oral health so well, the body may achieve an overall benefit by removing plaque, decay, inflammation, and bacteria from the mouth. What remains to be studied, however, is if there is a benefit of oil pulling over simple brushing of teeth. In some cases, oil pulling may be more effective--due to the amount of time dedicated to the cleaning process--in people that may not be getting their teeth clean enough from brushing. (Perhaps from worn toothbrushes, not brushing long enough, not brushing thoroughly, not flossing, etc) But for others with more thorough brushing and flossing practices, oil pulling may not show much of an overall health benefit.
What are your experiences with oil pulling? Has it helped you?