Daily Detox: Oil Pulling

Oil pulling is a 5,000 year old, Ayurvedic oral-health technique that involves swishing, sucking and pulling oil through the teeth. There are diverse claims about the oral and systemic health benefits of oil pulling. Many claims are anecdotal but there are published studies validating some oral- health benefits of oil pulling.

Oral Health Claims (7, 8,10, 11, 12)

  • Brightens/whitens teeth
  • Reduces plaque formation
  • Reduces inflammation of the gums
  • Prevents bad breath
  • Decreases tooth sensitivity

Systemic Health Claims (10, 12)

  • Boosts immune system
  • Improves heart health
  • Decreases anxiety
  • Improves sleep
  • Helps with the treatment of
    • asthma
    • diabetes
    • migraine headaches
    • chronic illnesses

 

Oral health is linked to overall health. Infection and inflammation in the mouth can lead to infection and inflammation throughout the body. The bacteria in your mouth are usually kept in check by your body’s immune system and all the tooth brushing, flossing and mouth wash swishing you do. However, bacteria can cling to the surface of teeth and form colonies aka plaque. Overtime, plaque makes gums prone to infection and teeth prone to dental caries or cavities (9). Three bacteria found in dental plaque associated with cavities are Streptococcus mutans, Lactobacilli spp. and Candida albicans (9).

The immune system will mount an attack in response to any infection. The immune response causes inflammation as part of the healing process. The irritation, redness and swelling of the gums associated with gingivitis is caused by inflammation. If gingivitis is not treated gum disease can progress to periodontitis.

Persistent infection, as in periodontitis, results in chronically inflamed gums. This can lead to bacteria from the mouth traveling to other parts of the body and cause inflammation in other parts of the body. (5)

Periodontitis is associated with endocarditis, an infection of the inner lining of the heart, cardiovascular diseases such as strokes and premature birth and low birth weight. (5)

 

Does oil pulling actually improve oral health? What does the science say?

I searched “oil pulling” in Pub Med and Google Scholar to look for studies about oil pulling. I did not conduct an exhaustive review of ALL of the literature however, I found 7 studies and 1 review about oil pulling. Of the 7 studies:

  • 4 are randomized controlled trials (2,3,4,8)
  • 1 is case studies (1) (no control group)
  • 1 is a prospective interventional study (7) (no control group)
  • 1 is a study of the effect of oil pulling on oral microorganisms in biofilm models (9)

Four studies used sesame oil (1,2,3,8), 2 used coconut oil (4,7) and 1 used both (9). All of the studies I reviewed are limited by small sample sizes, 10-60 participants, and lack of long-term follow-up.

 

Findings about sesame and coconut oil:

  • Coconut oil shows antimicrobial activity against Streptococcus mutans and Candida albicans (9).
  • Sesame oil shows antimicrobial activity against Streptococcus mutans (9).
  • Coconut oil is 45-50% lauric acid which has proven antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects (7).

 

Findings about oil pulling:

  • Decreases total count of oral bacteria (1, 2, 4, 8, 9, 10)
  • Decreases oral Streptococcus mutans count (4, 10)
  • Decreases plaque index score, a measure of plaque thickness (2, 7, 8)
  • Decreases modified gingival index score, a measure of gum inflammation (2, 7, 8)
  • Decreases oral malodor (8)
  • Decreases susceptibility to dental caries (1)

 

Only 1 study I reviewed found no statistically significant decrease in Streptococcus mutans with oil-pulling. This study was a randomized, double-blinded controlled study with 52 children between the ages of 6-12 years old (3). Perhaps the young age of the participants influenced the results of this study. Studies showing decreased Streptococcus mutans counts and other benefits of oil pulling included participants 16 years and older (2, 7, 8).

 

How does oil pulling work?

The exact mechanism of how oil pulling decreases plaque, oral bacterial count and gum inflammation is not know but theories include:

  • Oil pulling may cause a reduction in Streptococcus mutans because the oil’s viscosity inhibits bacterial adhesion and plaque co-aggregation (3).
  • The swishing of oil with saliva causes saponification or the formation of a soap -like substance that can reduce the adhesion of plaque (2,7,8).
  • Sesame oil may reduce gum inflammation due to it’s antioxidant properties and ability to potentiate vitamin E (2).
  • Coconut oil has known anti-inflammatory properties that reduce gingivitis (7).
  • The lauric acid in coconut oil has antimicrobial activity. It is hypothesized that coconut oil alters bacterial cell walls, penetrates and disrupts cell membranes and inhibits enzymes involved in energy production and nutrient transfer causing death of the bacteria (9).

 

I did not find any studies about the possible systemic benefits of oil pulling. Within the studies investigating the oral-health benefits of oil pulling there were comments regarding possible systemic benefits. Asokan et al., states that, “oil pulling cannot pull toxins out of the blood as claimed because the oral mucosa does not act as a semi-permeable membrane to allow toxins to pass through (2).” Andan et al., suggests that instead of toxins being pulled from the blood through the oral mucosa that, “toxins and bacteria from the body might be expelled through the tongue and trapped in the oil and removed from the body (1).” We’ll have to wait for future studies to learn more about the possible systemic benefits of oil puling.

The overall conclusion from my review is that oil-pulling, with sesame oil or coconut oil, is a safe and effective method of reducing plaque formation, gum inflammation, oral bacterial count, susceptibility to dental carries and oral malodor (1,2,4,7,8,9,10). Oil pulling should be used as a supplement to your oral-health routine and should not replace regular brushing, flossing and visits to the dentist (7, 10).

 

Oil Pulling Directions:

  1. Oil pulling should be done first thing in the morning on an empty stomach before drinking any liquids (2,10).
  1. Pour 1- 1½ tablespoons of coconut oil or sesame oil into the mouth (2,4,6,12). You may want to begin with 1-2 teaspoons and gradually work your way up.
  1. Swish the oil around the mouth and suck to pull the oil between the teeth for 10-20 minutes (2, 4, 6, 10).
  1. DO NOT swallow the oil!! The oil has trapped bacteria and toxins that you DO NOT want to swallow and reabsorb (2).
  1. Spit the oil, which may look milky white, into a cup or garbage can. It is not advisable to spit the oil into the sink or toilet unless you enjoy seeing your plumber.
  1. Then, rinse your mouth with warm water and brush your teeth (2).

Children: Oil pulling is safe for children as long as they are old enough not to swallow the oil (2, 3, 11). One – two teaspoons of oil is recommended for children 5-15 years old (2).

Check with your dentist prior to starting an oil-pulling regimen if you have fillings, crowns or dental issues (11).

 

How long does it take to notice the benefits of oil pulling?

The studies discussed above that found oral-health benefits from oil pulling were all quite short, 7-40 days. Christa Orecchio of The Whole Journey recommends that oil pulling be done daily for a minimum of 2 weeks to one month to receive the full benefits (6, 12).

 

Note about oil choice:

I have used sesame oil and coconut oil for oil pulling. The first time I ever tried oil pulling, I used coconut oil that was still in it’s solid form. I don’t really have a texture aversion but semi-solid slimy coconut oil is pretty gross. I would recommend starting out with sesame oil or melted and cooled coconut oil.

 

Action Step:

The easiest way to fit oil pulling into your routine is to keep sesame oil or coconut oil in your bathroom and do it at one of two times:

  • First thing in the morning: Hop out of bed, put the oil in your mouth, and oil pull while you shower (or even better while you dry brush and shower).
  • Before bed: Oil pulling is best done on an empty stomach so make sure it has been 2-3 hours since you ate dinner. Christa Orecchio reports that oil pulling at night can help you sleep better so if you are working on improving sleep try oil pulling before bed (12).

Let’s Chat

Have you tried oil pulling? Let me know if you have any tips & tricks. If you haven’t tried it, will you?

Let me know if you have any questions, I’m always happy to chat.

References

(1) Andan, TD, Pothiraj C, Gopinath RM, Kayalvizhi B. Effect of oil-pulling on dental caries causing bacteria. African Journal of Microbiology Research. 2008; 2:63-66. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.519.4180&rep=rep1&type=pdf

(2) Asokan S, Emmadi P, Chamundeswari R. Effect of oil pulling on plaque induced gingivitis: A randomized, controlled, triple-blind study. Indian J Dent Res [serial online] 2009 [cited 2016 Dec 21];20:47-51. Available from: http://www.ijdr.in/text.asp?2009/20/1/47/49067

(3) Jauhari, D., Srivastava, N., Rana, V., & Chandna, P. (2015). Comparative Evaluation of the Effects of Fluoride Mouthrinse, Herbal Mouthrinse and Oil Pulling on the Caries Activity and Streptococcus mutans Count using Oratest and Dentocult SM Strip Mutans Kit. International Journal of Clinical Pediatric Dentistry, 8(2), 114–118. http://doi.org/10.5005/jp-journals-10005-1295 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4562043/

(4) Kaushik, M et al. The effect of coconut oil pulling on streptococcus mutans count in saliva in comparison with chlorhexidine mouthwash. Journal of Contemporary Dental Practice, 2016 Jan 1;17(1):38-41. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27084861

(5) Oral health: A window to your overall health. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/dental/art-20047475?pg=1

(6) Orecchio, Christa & Buckley, Willow. How to Conceive Naturally: And Have a Healthy Pregnancy After 30. Grand Central Life & Style, 2015, pp. 105-106.

(7) Peedikayil, F. C., Sreenivasan, P., & Narayanan, A. (2015). Effect of coconut oil in plaque related gingivitis — A preliminary report. Nigerian Medical Journal : Journal of the Nigeria Medical Association, 56(2), 143–147. http://doi.org/10.4103/0300-1652.153406 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4382606/

(8) Sood, P., Devi M, A., Narang, R., V, S., & Makkar, D. K. (2014). Comparative Efficacy of Oil Pulling and Chlorhexidine on Oral Malodor: A (8) Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research : JCDR, 8(11), ZC18–ZC21. http://doi.org/10.7860/JCDR/2014/9393.5112 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4290321/

(9) Thaweboon S, Jurai Nakaparksin J, Thaweboon B. Effect of oil-pulling on oral microorganisms in biofilm models. Asia Journal of Public Health. 2011:2(2):62-66. http://asiaph.org/admin/img_topic/6096Sroisiri.pdf

(10) Tomar P, Hongal S, Jain M, Rana K, Saxena V. Oil Pulling and Oral Health: A Review. IJSS Case Report & Reviews 2014;1(3):33-37. http://imsear.hellis.org/handle/123456789/159320

(11) Wellness Mama. Oil Pulling for Oral Health. http://wellnessmama.com/7866/oil-pulling/

(12) The Whole Journey. The At-Home Remedy That Heals Your Entire Body. http://thewholejourney.com/the-at-home-remedy-that-heals-your-entire-body-video/

 

Disclaimer: I am not a Registered Dietician or licensed medical doctor. I do not diagnose or treat disease, but instead make healthy lifestyle recommendations for balancing the body and promoting optimal wellness. No recommendation or comment made by me should be construed as being medical advice or diagnosis.

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