Oil Pulling For Oral Health

Have you heard of the latest and greatest natural cure-all, oil pulling? If you spend any amount of time on social media, there’s a good chance you’ve at least run across the term.  The term oil pulling refers to the ancient Indian practice of swishing oil around your mouth and in ancient times was combined with chewing sticks and herbal tree leaves to keep mouths clean.  Modern day users are told to swish for 10 to 20 minutes daily to help with a number of oral and systemic health issues, as well as headaches, migraines, diabetes, asthma, and acne.  Supporters of the practice claim that it works by “pulling out” toxins and reducing inflammation.  But there haven’t been many studies conducted on the effectiveness of this practice, and with plenty of skeptics out there, inquiring minds want to know, does it work?

According to a recent Huffington Post article, the few studies that have been conducted found that oil pulling is somewhat effective in killing some forms of mouth bacteria, including those associated with gingivitis and bad breath.  Michelle Hurlbutt, RDH, MSDH, associate professor of dental hygiene at Loma Linda University stated that while oil pulling should never be used as a “comprehensive dental hygiene regimen,” it could be a nice addition to the typical recommended routine of brushing twice a day, flossing regularly, and visiting your dentist bi-annually.  It cannot be used to treat oral disease however and is meant as a preventative rinse.  Hurlbutt recently completed a small study on the practice, asking 45 healthy young adults to oil pull daily for two weeks.  The participants were split into three groups, each using a different oil, sesame, coconut, and water (the control group). After measuring levels of Streptococcus mutans, the bacteria associated with dental cavities, she found that the sesame oil group experienced a five-fold decrease in the bacteria compared to the water group, and the coconut oil group experienced a two-fold decrease.  After the oil pulling stopped the bacteria levels began to elevate again.  Hurlbutt believes there is sufficient evidence to warrant a larger study on the topic, knowing that her research isn’t enough to concretely determine that oil pulling works.

In terms of all of the other ailments that oil pulling is supposed to cure, no one really knows of its effectiveness.  But with all of the recent research connecting oral health and overall wellness, it wouldn’t be that far of a stretch to say that if it is shown to aid in a healthy mouth, the rest of the body must benefit too.  I will certainly be curious about any further studies into the matter.  Until then though, I think I’ll stick to my toothbrush and floss.

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