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Oil Pulling: Dental Miracle or Pointless Fad?

By Dr. Collier on September 21, 2014

A woman with clean, white teethIt’s easy to get swept up in the momentum of a health trend, especially when it seems to offer amazing benefits with little to no risk or side effects. Of course, there are indeed such beneficial practices - proper diet and exercise, for example - but they have long been known and are boring in comparison. Thus, when these alleged miracle trends suddenly surface and take the media by storm, it’s important to evaluate their actual efficacy and the science behind them.

Oil pulling is a recent craze that many claim offers a variety of dental and general health benefits, depending on whom you ask. According to some websites and articles, the continued practice of oil pulling can reverse the effects of tooth decay, thereby reducing or eliminating the need for restorative dentistry. But is there any science to support these claims, or is this just another ineffectual fad? Let’s look at how oil pulling works and the potential benefits therein, as provided by our Memphis dental practice.

What Is Oil Pulling?

Oil pulling is the practice of taking one to two teaspoons of cooking oil and swishing it around in the mouth for up to 20 minutes at a time. Most proponents recommend using sesame or coconut oil, allegedly due to their chemical properties but largely due to their taste. This meticulous mouth-washing method is supposed to create healthier teeth by “pulling” bacteria and toxins from the hard tissues. The most common claims of efficacy are that it reduces tooth decay, whitens teeth, creates fresh breath, and fights gum disease. More holistic claims include relief from headaches, reduction of arthritis, clearer skin, balanced hormones, improved kidney function, and improved quality of sleep.

Connections with Holistic Health

Let’s begin with the most impressive claims: that rinsing with oil can lead to better hormonal balance, kidney function, and other systemic benefits. To date, there are few if any studies on the effects of oil pulling on one’s overall health, primarily because there’s no reason to believe it would have any effect. In order to provide such effects, any ingredients would have to be ingested or otherwise absorbed by the body in significant amounts, and that’s something that simply won’t happen through a mouth rinse. Supporters of oil pulling may cite results from “detoxification,” but this is largely a buzz word that carries little merit or meaning in the realm of holistic medicine.

If you’re hoping that oil pulling is the cure-all that that others claim it to be, you will likely be disappointed: there’s simply no mechanism by which it can work beyond the capabilities of any other mouthwash.

Connections with Dental Health

When it comes to dental health, the benefits of oil pulling are a bit more ambiguous. After all, rinsing your mouth for 20 minutes straight is likely to have some effect, even if the ingredients are relatively innocuous. So, what’s the verdict on oil pulling and oral health?

For starters, the claim the oil can pull toxins from teeth is almost certainly false. Once bacteria penetrate enamel and begin to decay the inner tissues of a tooth, the infection cannot simply be pulled out. And even if it could, rinsing with oil does not have the potential to pull anything from teeth; rather, any effects would pertain to bacteria still living on the exterior of teeth and gums.

On that note, using sesame or coconut oil as a mouthwash does have the potential to clean the mouth. Several studies have shown a reduction in harmful bacteria after rinsing with oil for 20 minutes, similar to the effects of using a more traditional mouthwash. As a result, oil pulling may in fact reduce the prevalence of gum disease while promoting fresher breath. On the other hand, why spend 20 minutes to achieve this effect when you could just as effectively use a regular mouthwash for 30 seconds?

The Final Verdict

Skeptics of oil pulling are correct to doubt the entirety of its proponents’ claims. Still, there is at least some merit to the practice of rinsing your mouth at length with various oils. But for the work required, people are more likely to end up with jaw pain and a headache than any truly significant benefits. Moreover, oil pulling is certainly no replacement for regular dental hygiene via brushing and flossing. If you are concerned with your oral health, it’s best to stick with tried and true hygienic methods and visit your dentist for regular cleanings and exams.

Schedule Your Next Exam

To truly ensure your dental health, visit our practice for your routine dental cleaning. Contact us to inquire about any of our general, restorative, or cosmetic services while scheduling your next appointment.

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Cordova Office

850 Willow Tree Cir
Ste 101
Cordova, TN 38018

Open Today 8:00am - 5:00pm

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Cordova Office

850 Willow Tree Cir
Ste 101
Cordova, TN 38018

Open Today 8:00am - 5:00pm

More Info Directions (901) 756-0078