I am an open-minded guy. I don’t pretend that many of the ideas and treatments we employ today will still be the standard fifty years from now. As clinicians, we are held to the standard of care dictated by sound research which takes time to prove after years of evidence. That being said, I am always looking for new ideas, methods, treatments and better ways of doing things, as I believe many in the health field do. Oil pulling has become a hot topic recently. I am seeing more and more patients utilizing this method of managing their gum tissue, but with varied results, ranging from spotless to “OMG, what happened?”.
Let’s find out more about this phenomenon together. To start, oil pulling has been around for many years as an age-old folk remedy in the Indian culture, and brought to prominence in Russia in the 1990s. Oil pulling utilizes several common edible oils, most notably, sesame oil, sunflower oil and coconut oil. It is recommended that oil pulling take place in the morning on an empty stomach, putting the oil in the mouth and sipping and sucking between the teeth for 10-20 minutes. The oil is then spit out as it is thought to contain bacteria and toxins pulled from the mouth. Tooth brushing follows the oil pulling.
Why would anybody try this? Well, sucking bacteria and toxins out of your body sounds great. Oil pulling sources also state that it does not cause any staining, has no bad after taste and causes no allergic reactions. The mechanism of how it works is unclear, as various claims have been proven inaccurate through scientific research. This is the main reason that the dental profession is hesitant to endorse its use. The tissue in the mouth is not composed of channels that just allow toxins to pass through. It has also been proven that sesame oil does not have antibacterial properties; however, there is support that coconut oil does have some that fight against certain types of harmful bacteria found in the mouth. Another proposed mechanism is that the oil acts like a soap by effectively forming around the bacteria and plaque, to help cleanse these from the mouth as you would cleanse your body with soap.
After reading through many of the journal articles published throughout the world on the subject, one finds there are some commonalities that exist. The American Dental Association does not yet endorse it as a common practice for maintaining oral hygiene, due to lack of scientific evidence supporting its true mechanism and effectiveness. However, many studies out there show it to be effective, when using coconut oil as an antibacterial agent for fighting against certain bacteria found in the mouth as well as plaque. In addition, reductions in plaque have been found when using oil pulling, likely due to its soap-like properties, cleansing the mouth. Lastly, oil pulling has not been shown to be necessarily harmful either.
In summary, continue flossing and brushing as the most effective means to keep your mouth cavity-free and your gums healthy. However, if you want to oil pull on top of that, I approve, as long as it’s done in addition to and not as a substitute, just in case oil pulling is pulling your leg more than it is the toxins.
Smile! Happy Looks Good on You!
Kristopher Rappold, DDS, FAGD