When I first heard about "oil pulling", I didn't give it a second thought. It seemed a little too exotic to try, never mind recommend it to my family. Mind you, I'm open minded about alternative health practices - I'm a Chiropractor, after all - but when it comes to oral health, I don't push what I can't find definitive research findings on. And oil pulling was one of them. That was awhile ago.
But when my poor daughter had her 4 wisdom teeth extracted over Christmas vacation and asked me about oil pulling, I almost spit out my coffee.
DD: Mom. have you heard of oil pulling?
Me: Yes, why? *raising one eye brow*
DD: Did you try it?
Me: No. But I heard it helps with oral health. Why do you ask?
DD: Well, I was bored, lying around, not being able to eat or do anything, so I googled, 'how to heal faster after wisdom tooth extraction' and oil pulling came up! So I tried it.
Me: Wow. I'm impressed! *putting down the coffee mug* I knew about it for awhile but I thought you'd think it was weird!
DD: It said, it kills bacteria and I won't get infected from the surgery. So I tried it gently earlier and I didn't throw up!
My college co-ed has all grown up! She's no prima donna but I thought for sure she'd roll her eyes at something that involves putting a spoonful of slimy grease into her mouth and swishing it around for what seems like eternity, just to keep her teeth clean. But leave it to kids to make up their own minds at their own pace. I guess college does that to a kid.
Anyway, I looked into what the big hoopla was about oil pulling and this is what I found out recently. I didn't find these articles a few years ago. How times have changed.
Oil Pulling or Oil Swishing - Does it work?
Oil pulling is an ancient Ayurvedic method of improving health by using sunflower or sesame oil in your mouth. The practice goes back over three thousand years for addressing over 30 types of ailments, including diabetes, migraine, asthma and oral health. According to the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, the original practice involved filling the mouth cavity with sesame oil, with no room for gargling for 3-5 minutes and then, release. And since each section of the tongue is connected to different organ such as to the kidneys, lungs, liver, heart, small intestines, stomach, colon, and spine, the oil therapy can be preventive and curative for many different systemic ailments that involve those organs.
Are there any studies that prove that oil pulling cures illnesses that are connected to these systems? Not that I am aware of but like many ancient health care practices that do not have 'double blinded control' study results, thousands of years of practice couldn't be wrong. Nevertheless, I couldn't find any more information than just a statement that it "helps" those ailments. But there are evidences for reducing plaque and improving oral health. There was a small study done with 20 male subjects that showed same level of plaque reduction with oil pulling compared to chlorhexidine, a chemical mouthwash in the control group. But there are skeptics, mainly, American dentists, who state that using any liquid should improve oral health as it's better than NOT doing anything. Not sure about that but they are entitled to their opinion.
What kind of oil should be used? The original Ayuverdic method used sesame oil but in recent years, coconut oil has been used as well. Asia Journal of Public Health published a study that stated that coconut oil exhibited antimicrobial activity against S. mutans and C. albicans whereas sesame oil had activity against S. mutans in biofilm models, concluding that coconut oil has better antimicrobial effect than sesame oil. I tried it with organic sesame oil but the odor was too strong for me. I couldn't do it. But if you want to try sesame oil, make sure it's organic and unrefined.
How does the mechanism of oil pulling work? According to this one study, saponication and emulsification of the oil in the mouth, during swishing, mechanically pulls the bacteria off the oral cavity, and the oils kill the specific organisms. In essence, there are physical changes that occur upon the oils being mixed with saliva - saponication and emulsification - and due to their antimicrobial properties, plaque causing microorganisms get killed in the process.
Armed with these facts, and after having the discussion with my daughter, my husband and I decided to try oil swishing with coconut oil. So we've been oil pulling/swishing since January.
But how do you exactly oil pull?
How to oil pull
A few things about oil pulling that you should know. You can use sesame oil or sunflower oil. I didn't like either so I used coconut oil. Sesame oil made me gag and I didn't find enough evidence that sunflower oil is as beneficial as sesame or coconut so I didn't try it. If you are allergic to coconut, obviously, don't use coconut oil. Try sesame oil instead. You must swish for at least 20 minutes, no more, no less. And this is the most important thing....YOU CAN'T SWALLOW THE OIL. Oil is toxic once it's been detoxing your mouth. In fact, someone on Twitter sent me a post about "Lipoid Pneumonia" from swallowing toxic oil from oil pulling. That doesn't sound fun. So, don't swallow and spit out in a trash can.
Now, the exact steps on oil pulling:
- I usually oil pull when I'm taking a shower. So before jumping in the shower, I brush and floss my teeth so the spaces between the teeth are clear for the oil to pass through.
- Then, I put about 1 Tablespoon of Unrefined Organic Expeller Pressed Virgin Coconut Oil (It should be organic. Why would you use anything else?) in my mouth, and gargle in the back of the throat for a few seconds first, before the oil becomes toxic with bacteria. And then, I jump in the shower. If you have a thing about biting into hard coconut oil, you can melt it into a liquid state before swishing. Truth be told; it took me a while to get used to biting into a hard block of oil. But once it's melted, there was no greasy feeling. Just coconut taste. Some people add peppermint essential oil to freshen up the breath even more but I don't think it's necessary.
- While in the shower, after gargling, I swish the oil around the mouth while I'm showering and a little longer afterwards, total of 20 minutes. I force the oil through, between each teeth - in and out. I try not to get too rigorous that may make my jaw or cheeks too tired but still active enough for it to coat all of the oral cavity. Oil will emulsify with your saliva and become more liquid-y and 'whiter'.
- After 20 minutes, I spit out the oil into the garbage can; never in the drain or the toilet. Coconut oil will clog up the drain if it accumulates in the pipe. Also, it's filled with bacteria so I wouldn't want to flush it down the toilet either. Why add more toxic sludge?
- Then, I brush my teeth again, using just the toothbrush to get rid of the oily film. Usually, at this point, I have to blow my nose and clear my sinus. It happens every time. Some people gargle with warm salt water but I only do that if I'm oil pulling in the afternoon and I'm near the kitchen.
What happened to my health as result of oil pulling? Here are my observations.
Oil Pulling Results
- Halitosis - I feel as if my breath is cleaner. My mouth always feel clean right after I swish.
- Plaque - I noticed there is definitely less plaque build up. I have two lower teeth that are slightly overlapped. Plaque build up between the overlap is my biggest pet peeve. I'm always scraping it off and paying extra attention to that area since I can't always get everything off. But since I started oil pulling, there is a lot less, almost, non-existent plaque build up! I'm amazed!
- Sinus - Like I said above, my sinus is clearer when I oil pull, especially in the morning. I have to blow my nose every time! I assume killed bacteria in my nasal passage need to be flushed out so sinus draining is part of the effects.
- Canker sore - I used to get canker sore every other week. If I'm tired or stressed, I'd get canker sores on my tongue or on the side of the cheeks. But since I started oil pulling, I didn't have any. But when I skipped oil pulling over couple of weekends, they started to appear. So I oil pulled as soon as I noticed them, both times, and they went away!
How about all the systemic cures?
Well, since I'm in good health, I didn't notice any improvements or cures. I also couldn't find any research that indicated the connection between cures for ailments and oil pulling. I'm sure someone is doing that research as you read this.
Also, some people report whiter teeth since oil pulling. I didn't check my teeth before I started oil pull so honestly, I couldn't tell you if they are whiter. But I heard that your gums get healthier (great for gingivitis) and teeth get whiter.
Would I recommend oil pulling?
Yes. I think it definitely reduces plaque, improve halitosis, and kills microorganisms that cause a myriad of oral health problems, including cavities. While I'll admit, I am now brushing and flossing more regularly - especially flossing - so maybe that could have contributed to the improvement but above studies have shown that coconut oil pulling definitely improves oral health. Therefore, I don't think my experiences were incidental. Besides, I don't lose any time doing it since I do it while showering. It's no time taken out of my day.
I buy a tub of organic coconut oil from Costco and I fill an empty bottle to use it in my bathroom. If you don't have a Costco near you, you can find one at your local grocery store or on Amazon. (Affiliate)
Have you tried oil pulling? What have you noticed?
If you haven't, try oil pulling. You have nothing to lose.
Dr. Karen Lee says
GinaBadalaty I think if you ingest coconut oil it may interfere with blood clotting mechanism so it may interact with blood thinners. But since you are not swallowing coconut oil when you swish, there shouldn't be any issues. But check with your doctor first.
Dr. Karen Lee says
CindyDudas Me too! I feel 'icky' when I skip it. I think it's clearing all the stuff out of sinuses, 'pulling' all the crud out of the bones in our teeth, and cleaning the filmy bad boys out of the membranes. Just writing about it makes me want to oil pull now....:)
Dr. Karen Lee says
[email protected] Talk Yes I did and hated it. I added the info in the post now that you asked. Try refined organic coconut. That has less coconut flavor. Sesame oil should be unrefined organic and it tastes very strong. I gagged and I love sesame oil in foods!
[email protected] Talk says
Have you tried sesame? I don't love coconut.
I've been oil pulling for years and years! I love everything about it. IT makes my mouth feel great, my teeth whiter, and most of all, it clears my sinuses. Honestly. I don't know if it is the act of pulling or the oil itself, but I always feel WAY better after doing it every morning.
I have been worried about trying it because I am on blood thinners and I read something recently about the 2 interacting, don't ask me HOW. I really want to try it. I didn't know about the science clearing, that's great to hear.
Dr. Karen Lee says
@Cheryl So glad you're willing to give it a try. Some people give up before they get used to it. Start slow - 3-5 minutes in the beginning - then, go to 20 minutes. Let me know how you find the results.
This is interesting. I've seen it pop up on FB a few times but never read anything about it until your blog post. This caused me to hop over to Google to read more. I think I'll give it a try. Thanks for sharing your experience.
Dr. Karen Lee says
cativins Thanks for letting me know if worked for you too! What kind of oil do you use, coconut or sesame?
Karen thank you for this post! I had forgotten all about oil pulling - I did it several years ago when I was having some dental issues and it did help. I had forgotten all about it. I am going to order some oil and start again.