PUBLISHED IN TCI WEEKLY NEWS
July 4th 2015
I’ve been asked by several patients about the practice of ‘Oil Pulling’. ‘Is it effective?’ ‘Do I recommend it?’ ‘Is it better or worse than a regular mouth wash?’ I thought this week I would use my column to consider the pros and cons of oil pulling and try and solve some of the mystery and myths surrounding it.
What is Oil Pulling?
It actually dates back thousands of years and is based in Ayurvedic medicine, a traditional Indian system. It involves rinsing or ‘swishing’ oil- typically coconut, sesame or sunflower- around the mouth and teeth for up to 20 minutes before spitting it out with the view being that it removes bacterita and promotes a healthier mouth.
How is it purported to work?
Those that support oil pulling claim that it helps against gingivitis, plaque, and bad breath. The act of swilling the oil around the mouth for an extended period of time enables to it to come into contact with bacteria and microorganisms that inhabit the mouth. These microorganisms mostly consist of a single cell which is covered with a lipid (fatty) membrane and when these cells come into contact with the oil, they naturally adhere to it. These are then expelled from the mouth upon spitting out the oil. Coconut oil is often preferred because 50% of the fat in coconut oil is comprised of the ingredient lauric acid which is very well known for its antimicrobial actions.
Does it work?
I have to admit that I was skeptical when I first heard of the practice but my research showed that there appears to be some sensible studies, based in science, that show there may be some tangible benefits to the practice. It appears to be true that oil pulling lessens the bacterial load in the mouth and there is certainly evidence to show that bacteria can enter the blood stream when oral hygiene is poor which in turn can cause health issues (both in for the mouth and teeth and beyond.). I have read anecdotal accounts of chronic gum disease improving with the practice of regular oil pulling although I have not seen this for myself.
When I tried it- admittedly only the once- I struggled to do it for longer than 2 minutes. I found it unpleasant to the point of making me retch and not something I wanted to repeat! Supporters of the practice report that the more often they practice, the longer they are able to hold the oil in the mouth. So perseverance seems to be key! I would also have to say that coconut oil is not particularly cheap.
Maintenance of regular dental care is crucial
A regular oil-pulling routine should not replace routine dental visits and traditional at-home oral care such as brushing and flossing. Oil pulling does not reverse the effects of tooth decay and there is no hard evidence to support that it can treat gum disease or gingivitis. That being said, I do believe that it could be a useful supplemental therapy for some patients.