Have you ever heard of oil pulling? It’s a trend that’s picked up a lot of traction lately, especially among holistic medicine enthusiasts. Oil pulling practitioners claim that it’s good for your dental hygiene in that it whitens teeth, improves gum health, and even cures cavities.
Oil pulling works by swishing with coconut oil for about 20 minutes. Coconut oil advocates make tall claims on its behalf. But is it actually good for your dental health or is it just a 20 minute cheek exercise?
Oil pulling has been around a long time. It started 3,000 – 5,000 years ago in ancient India as an Ayurvedic dental remedy. During its heyday, dentistry didn’t have its own branch of Ayurvedic Medicine. Oil pulling was thought to help your oral health by reducing inflammation throughout the body.
In one ancient text, oil pulling is said to cure over 30 different disease – from headaches to diabetes, gum disease, tooth decay, and cracked lips. Oil pulling’s main function was to treat dry mouth. Oil pulling hit the scene in Western culture around 1990, when an Ayurvedic Evangelist named Tummala Rao championed it as a modern alternative medicine.
In 2008, alternative health nutritionist, Dr. Bruce Fife, came out with the book, Oil Pulling Therapy: Detoxifying and Healing the Body Through Oral Cleaning, where he talks about the powers of coconut oil.
Since its publication, coconut oil has become a favorite amongst nutritionists. He’s also well known for his book, The Coconut Oil Miracle, in which he claims coconut oil can cure heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, as well as make your hair and skin beautiful.
One of the biggest critiques of the book is that he makes broad claims from incompetent non-scientific references. From a layman’s standpoint, the book seems like a scientific exploration. However, all of the bad reviews on GoodReads come from scientists claiming it’s not scientific enough.
Nowadays, oil pulling has caught on with Yoga moms, healthy lifestyle bloggers, college kids, and so forth. You can even learn how to make your own coconut oil chews, and pop them in like a piece of Dubble Bubble, whenever your mouth feels dry. A lot of people champion oil pulling, but they don’t thoroughly research it to see if there’s any proven science behind it.
There are only a small number of scientific analyses about the legitimacy of oil pulling with coconut oil. One small study found that oil pulling helped to lessen the density of the bacteria Streptococcus mutans, which causes tooth decay and bacterial overgrowth.
However, the study also compared coconut oil to a regular chlorhexidine rinse, finding it wasn’t any more effective than store bought mouthwash. Chlorhexidine actually ended up being more effective. There also weren’t any findings on whether coconut oil actually reversed cavities, a common claim amongst oil pulling enthusiasts.
Another study looked at coconut oil at its molecular level. They found coconut oil contains Lauric acid, which is known to help fight viruses, bacteria, and yeast overgrowth. Given these findings, It’s hard to say whether coconut oil is an effective complementary medicine for reducing tooth decay, teeth whitening and maintaining oral health, because none of the studies were carried out over a long enough testing period.
However, Chicago dentist, Dr. Emery claims there’s truth behind the idea of oil pulling bacteria out of teeth. Meaning it might help defend against gum disease after all. Most of the bacteria in the mouth are one-celled microorganisms with a lipid (fatty) membrane. So, on a molecular level, it would make sense that the fat in the coconut oil would adhere to the bacteria and draw it out of your gums.
Coconut oil is also an omega-6 fatty acid, which is proven to be anti-inflammatory and support heart health.
Early Ayurvedic medicine claims that oil pulling helps your gums regenerate themselves, but there’s no Western scientific evidence on whether it’s true or not. All in all, there’s isn’t enough evidence for or against coconut oil pulling to make a conclusive statement on whether it’s scientifically sound as a dental hygiene practice.
As long as you don’t use it as a substitute for any oral care routines, like flossing, brushing, and going to the dentist, oil pulling can’t harm your dental health. If you do get on the oil pulling train, try and use coconut oil and not other frequently used oils, like olive oil or sesame oil.
It’s also important you rinse with water and brush your teeth after oil pulling.
Although accidentally swallowing a bunch of omega-3 rich oil won’t be as bad for your diet or cause an inflammatory reaction. From a theoretical standpoint, it would be in vain to pull bacteria out of your teeth and gums, then not swish the bacteria away afterwards.
We wouldn’t recommend oil pulling for children or senior citizens with throat issues. Kids and the elderly are more prone to aspirate oil, especially when they’re swishing it for as long as 20-30 minutes. There have been a few cases of lipid pneumonia linked to oil pulling. Lipid pneumonia is an inflammation of your lungs caused by fat entering the bronchial tubes, in other words, “going down the wrong pipe.”
Besides the elderly and children, it’s also common with people who have gastroesophageal reflux. If you decide to take up oil pulling as an alternative health practice, be careful and exact, so as not to inhale or choke on any of the oil.
If you’re looking to begin coconut oil to combat gum disease, we also recommend visiting your dentist. Oil pulling is best used as a complementary medicine for prevention, not treatment. There’s no scientific evidence that coconut oil is effective for treating oral health diseases.
Don’t suffer from dental diseases anymore. Make an appointment with Dr. Grubb today at 410-942-9811.
Richard V. Grubb
203 S. Washington St.
Havre de Grace, MD 21078
Monday: 8AM – 4PM
Tuesday: 9AM – 6PM
Wednesday: 8AM – 4PM
Thursday: 8AM – 4PM
Saturday: 8AM – 1PM (once a month)