By Dr. Mercola
Oil pulling is making headlines as it seems to becoming widely popular, but it's actually an Ayurvedic Indian tradition that's been around for thousands of years.
To perform it, you simply swish an oil in your mouth, "pulling" it between your teeth for about 20 minutes. You can use a number of oils for this, but sesame, sunflower, and coconut oil are the most commonly used.
As for the benefits, this is one of the easiest ways to support your oral health naturally, especially if you use coconut oil, which is a powerful destroyer of all kinds of microbes, from viruses to bacteria to protozoa, many of which can be harmful.
Oil Pulling to Improve Your Oral Health
Ancient Ayurveda texts claim that oil pulling may cure about 30 systemic diseases and even today, it's widely discussed as a tool for detoxification of your whole body. These uses are controversial and I can't vouch for their validity. However, in your mouth,oil pulling does have significant cleansing and healing effects, which are backed up by science.
Anecdotally as well, virtually everyone who tries it notices an improvement in their oral health. Personally, this technique has significantly reduced my plaque buildup, allowing me to go longer between visits to the dental hygienist. As reported by the Indian Journal of Dental Research:1
"Oil pulling has been used extensively as a traditional Indian folk remedy without scientific proof for many years for strengthening teeth, gums and jaws and to prevent decay, oral malodor, bleeding gums and dryness of throat and cracked lips."
If you take a look at the research, it's easy to understand why:
- Oil pulling reduced counts of Streptococcus mutans bacteria – a significant contributor to tooth decay – in the plaque and saliva of children.2 Researchers concluded, "Oil pulling can be used as an effective preventive adjunct in maintaining and improving oral health."
- Oil pulling significantly reduced plaque, improved gum health and reduced aerobic mircoorganisms in plaque among adolescent boys with plaque-induced gingivitis3
- Oil pulling is as effective as mouthwash at improving bad breath and reducing the microorganisms that may cause it4
- Oil pulling benefits your mouth, in part, via its mechanical cleaning action.5 Researchers noted, "The myth that the effect of oil-pulling therapy on oral health was just a placebo effect has been broken and there are clear indications of possible saponification and emulsification process, which enhances its mechanical cleaning action."
What Type of Oil Works Best for Oil Pulling?
It's worth noting that the above studies used sesame oil, which is traditionally recommended. However, it has relatively high concentration of omega-6 oils. Therefore, I believe coconut oil is far superior, as most of us get far too many omega-6 fats, which distorts the sensitive omega 3:6 ratio. And, in my mind, coconut oil tastes much better.
From a mechanical and biophysical perspective, it is likely that both work. However, coconut oil has antibacterial and anti-viral activity that makes it especially well suited for oral health. In fact, coconut oil mixed with baking soda makes for a very simple and inexpensive, yet effective, toothpaste and research suggests it may be a valuable tool for fighting tooth decay.
Researchers at the Athlone Institute of Technology's Bioscience Research Institute in Ireland tested the antibacterial action of coconut oil in its natural state and coconut oil that had been treated with enzymes, in a process similar to digestion.
The oils were tested against strains of Streptococcus bacteria, which are common inhabitants of your mouth. They found that enzyme-modified coconut oil strongly inhibits the growth of most strains of Streptococcus bacteria, including Streptococcus mutans, an acid-producing bacterium that is a major cause of tooth decay.6
It is thought that the breaking down of the fatty coconut oil by the enzymes turns it into acids, which are toxic to certain bacteria.7 Enzyme-modified coconut oil was also harmful to the yeast Candida albicans, which can cause thrush. So when oil pulling is combined with the antimicrobial power of coconut oil, I believe it can be a very powerful health tool.
Oil Pulling Is Simple
Oil pulling involves "rinsing" your mouth with the oil, much like you would with a mouthwash (except you shouldn't attempt to gargle with it). The oil is "worked" around your mouth by pushing, pulling, and drawing it through your teeth for a period of about 20 minutes. Oil pulling will work your jaw muscles as another benefit, but if yours become sore or tired you're probably "swishing" the oil too vigorously. Just relax and focus on moving the oil with your tongue as well as your jaw muscles.
When you're first starting out, you may want to try it for just five minutes at a time, or, if you have more time and want even better results, you can go for 30-45 minutes. This process allows the oil to "pull out" bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other debris from your mouth. Once the oil turns thin and milky white, you'll know it's time to spit it out. The best time to do oil pulling is in the morning before eating breakfast, but it can be done at any time. I try to do it twice a day if my schedule allows. When you're done, spit out the oil and rinse your mouth with water or a combination of water and baking soda. Avoid swallowing the oil as it will be loaded with bacteria and whatever potential toxins and debris it has pulled out.
Candida and Streptococcus are common residents in your mouth, and these germs and their toxic waste products can contribute to plaque accumulation and tooth decay. Oil pulling may help lessen the overall toxic burden on your immune system by preventing the spread of these organisms from your mouth to the rest of your body, by way of your bloodstream. Many people think oil pulling sounds strange ... until they try it. Then many become hooked. It's just one more way that you can use a natural, simple substance to significantly boost your oral health. People have been using this technique, and others like chewing sticks, for centuries because they work.
A Comprehensive Strategy for Oral Health
Total Video Length: 0:59:55
Proper dental hygiene is important for optimal health in your mouth and in the rest of your body, as discussed by Dr. Bill Osmunson in the interview above. When it comes to preventing cavities, drinking fluoridated water, and brushing your teeth with fluoridated toothpaste is not the answer, because fluoride is more toxic than lead. The key is your diet and proper dental care: good old brushing and flossing. By avoiding sugars and processed foods, you help prevent the proliferation of the bacteria that cause decay in the first place.
Eating fermented vegetables is another simple "trick." Fermented vegetables are loaded with friendly flora that not only improve digestion but alter the flora in your mouth as well. Since the addition of these foods into my diet, my plaque has decreased by 50 percent and is much softer.
Practicing twice daily brushing and flossing, along with regular cleanings by your biological dentist and hygienist, will ensure that your teeth and gums are as healthy as they can be. I believe oil pulling once or twice a day will also enhance your current dental hygiene routine. In addition to consuming foods that are part of the "traditional diet" and avoiding processed foods and refined sugar, make sure you are getting plenty omega-3 fats. The latest research suggests even moderate amounts of omega-3 fats may help ward off gum disease. My favorite source of high-quality omega-3 fat is krill oil.
And speaking of sugar, a particular type of honey from New Zealand called Manuka honey has also been shown to be effective in reducing plaque. Researchers found Manuka honey worked as well as chemical mouthwash — and better than the cavity fighting sugar alcohol, xylitol — in reducing levels of plaque. This is most likely due to the honey's antibacterial properties. Clinical trials have shown that Manuka honey can effectively eradicate more than 250 clinical strains of bacteria, including antibiotic-resistant varieties. I still believe that oil pulling with coconut oil gives you more bang for your buck for your oral health, but it's always interesting to see just how many natural substances are around us that have the power to drastically improve your health.