Oil Pulling: Gum Health Booster Or Gimmick?

Oil pulling is one of the latest health crazes, and not surprisingly, it's touted by many people who live a "crunchy" or natural lifestyle. It's becoming more mainstream, though, as people seek natural alternatives to chemical-laden teeth whiteners and breath refreshers. So, what exactly is oil pulling? Should you try it? Let's take a look at the claims and facts to find out.

What Is Oil Pulling?

Oil pulling involves swishing with oil or allowing it to sit in your mouth to kill harmful bacteria that cause plaque and gingivitis. Recommendations as to how long to hold the oil in your mouth or swish vary, but most recommendations fall within the 2-5 minute range. It gets the name "oil pulling" because you're swishing or "pulling" the oil through your teeth and mouth.

Oil pulling proponents claim that the procedure improves oral health, whitens teeth and reduces the risk of gingivitis. Other reported oral health benefits include fresher breath and healthier looking teeth, tongue and gums.

There are two types of oil pulling. The first, kavala, requires you to hold the oil in your mouth for 2-3 minutes before swishing it and spitting it out. The gandusa method requires you to hold the oil in your mouth for 3-5 minutes, but you do not swish it around. Some oil pulling enthusiasts swish for 20 minutes on an empty stomach to break through the plaque and bacteria on the teeth and rid the body of toxins.

What Types of Oil Are Used?

Coconut oil and sesame oil are two of the most common oils used in pulling. Both are mild abrasives. However, any edible oil may be used, including sunflower, almond and olive oils. Mostly, the oil used is a matter of preference. Some oils, such as sesame oil, have a much stronger flavor than extra-virgin olive oil or coconut oil.

Is It Safe?

The American Dental Association has weighed in on the practice of pulling, and they don't recommend it based on a current lack of evidence supporting its effectiveness. Instead, they encourage patients to follow standard oral hygiene procedures, including brushing twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, flossing daily and rinsing with ADA-approved mouth rinses.

In addition to a lack of strong evidence supporting its effectiveness, some of the available literature cites case reports of adverse effects, including lipoid pneumonia or mineral oil aspiration. However, mild symptoms such as diarrhea and upset stomach are more commonly reported.

Should You Try It?

As long as you don't swallow the oil, there are no real adverse health effects. Diarrhea and stomach-related problems occur only when the oil is ingested. If you try it, be aware that some people may experience a strong gag reaction to holding oil in their mouths for extended periods.

To swish with oil:

1. Put a couple of tablespoons of an oil of your choice in your mouth.

2. Swish for the allotted time, anywhere from 2 to 20 minutes. The idea is swish until the oil is a milky white color, indicating that it is full of microbes and bacteria.

3. Spit the oil into a disposable container when finished. Avoid spitting down the sink, because oil may harden and clog the pipes.

4. Rinse your mouth with water to remove excess oil.

Should you choose to adopt an oil pulling routine, do not substitute it for your normal brushing and flossing routine. It should only be used to supplement the established procedures that you already do. Talk to your periodontist first, particularly if you're being treated for serious dental or periodontal diseases to make sure that oil pulling is a safe procedure for your particular condition.