The oil pulling phenomenon has been a sensationalized dental hygiene trend that has been all over the internet for the last few months. Just recently, word got out that Gwenyth Paltrow and Shailene Woodley have adopted the ritual, and internet interest in the practice has spiked again. But as interest in oil pulling continues to grow, so does speculation and contradictory information. Most are saying now that oil pulling is not worth the hype, but scientists are continuing to gather data to answer questions regarding its validity.
Traditionally, oil pulling is an old Ayurvedic folk remedy that suggests swishing a spoonful of oil around in the mouth every morning for 10-20 minutes. The concept of “pulling” relates to sucking the oil in between the teeth as you swish, much like any mouthwash. Many alternative health websites recommend using coconut or sesame oil, but the practice can be successfully administered with any cold-pressed oil. The importance is not so much the oil, but the swishing. The claim that coconut oil draws out more toxins is unfounded on the basis that the practice drawing out and eliminating any toxins at all in the body is unfounded. So, the hype about oil pulling drawing out and eliminating toxins should be bypassed for now.
The most common benefits of the pulling exercise are touted as being cavity prevention, reduced gum inflammation, teeth-whitening, and a bad breath cure. However, some progressive proponents also promote the ritual as an alleviant of foggy-headedness, fatigue, headaches, toothaches, insomnia, hormonal stabilizer, hang-overs, and a racing mind, to name a short list. Pulling is also heralded as a great way to exercise the muscles of the mouth and face, therefore resulting in tighter, more taut skin.
The ancient Indian tradition also claims that incorporated into the routine is a time for daily meditation. The 10-20 minute time suggestion may not be to recommended in order to benefit from the hygiene aspects of the practice, but rather the mental and spiritual aspects. Even though many users have said they do it while they are washing the dishes or packing their kids lunch, it is something that while being done forces the swisher to be quiet and concentrate (Don’t swallow!). Quietly concentrating is, like, practically meditating. Perhaps some of the perceived benefits–absence of headaches and foggy-headedness– result more from the quiet time than the presence of the oil.
For those who practice the technique, it is suggested to take the spoonful first thing in the morning, prior to consuming any other food, to get the best results. At first, there is a major hurdle to jump in the arena of mouth-feel and taste. Depending on what type of oil is used, the liquid can taste rather unappealing and be very viscous even after it dilutes, and at times build in viscosity as it collects mouth debris. Definitely something to get used to. It is also highly recommended to brush after the exercise to wash out any left-over residue and swished-out food particles. Definitely, highly recommended. The whole point is to have a cleaner mouth, right?
There may be some truth to the dental health claims, considering participants in a small group study who swished with oil, other than not swishing with anything, tended to have less tooth-decaying bacteria in their mouths. However, in a similar study by the same researcher, regular brand mouthwash was used instead and deemed just as effective in both eliminating mouth bacteria and reducing super bad breath. Basically, the significance of the exercise may be distilled to the effect swishing has on dislodging unwanted debris from the hard to reach places in the mouth. As long as the swishing solution is not harmful, it may not matter what is used.
If a consumer-conscious individual is looking for a more DIY approach to their dental hygiene practices and has the time to partake of the lavish oil swish, by all means, take the plunge. Please, however, be aware that if the oil is accidentally inhaled there is a risk of lipoid pneumonia, which happens to people when oil gets into the lungs. Does not sound fun.
Another actually beneficial facet of the folk remedy is that swishing with oil may be less abrasive for people who suffer from inflamed gums. Tea tree oil is also suggested as an additive to toothpaste for those with the sensitivity. There is evidence that tea tree oils and others have anti-inflammatory properties, but these solutions are suggested to be supplemental in one’s dental health routine, not replacements or in lieu of prescribed brushing, flossing, and rinsing.
Aside from the pesky lipoid pneumonia, if exercised with caution, there does not seem to be any other harmful side-effects that result from oil pulling, but whether or not it lives up to the hype is in the hands of the one pulling the oil. Why not take it for a whirl and calculate the results. If the results are satisfying, go ahead and join the campaign, but chances are it will not make anyone smarter or younger or turn into a celebrity. But as a hangover cure, why not swish and see?!
Opinion by Stacy Feder