The Buzz About Oil Pulling

I’m, sure by now you’ve all heard the buzz about Oil Pulling. “Heal your cavities naturally” is one of many miracle cures that proponents of this ancient practice claim. But what does the evidence support? Oil pulling is an ancient beauty and health ritual. The ritual involves placing unrefined plant oils — like coconut or sesame — in your mouth and swirling the oil through your teeth for 20 minutes (yes that was MINUTES) at night or in the morning. Just go online and you’ll likely see people touting the technique as a dubious cure-all for a variety of ailments.

Practitioners of oil pulling claim it is capable of improving oral and systemic health, including an improvement in conditions such as headaches, diabetes, arthritis, asthma and acne as well as healing cavities and whitening teeth. Its promoters claim it works by pulling out “toxins” and thereby reducing inflammation.

Research on oil pulling, however, isn’t as supportive of the technique as proponents might wish. The National Center for Health Research states that “it’s still unclear whether or how the practice actually works to get rid of bad bacteria in our mouths. It’s also unknown what the long term effects on oral and overall health may be.” In one small study, sesame oil was found to be effective at reducing plaque and oral bacterial load, but was less effective than chlorhexadine (an antiseptic mouthwash); the health claims of oil pulling have otherwise failed scientific verification or have not been investigated.  There have been studies that oil pulling can actually cause harm to your system, particularly if it is inadvertently inhaled during the swishing process. People who suffer from GERD (acid reflux) are particularly at risk of oil being ingested into the lungs causing a type of pneumonia which is particularly hard to diagnose and treat.

Even the well know urban legend resource website Snopes reports that there are very few clinical studies of the technique, and the ones that do exist only point to minor improvements in markers of oral health. Snopes goes on to point out that there are absolutely no studies to back up the claim that oil pulling cures or prevents diseases,”nor is there any sensible scientific explanation for how simply swishing oil around in one’s mouth could accomplish any of those things. Essentially, this means that you cannot and should not count on oil pulling to help with hormonal imbalances, inflammation, reduction in insomnia or skin health. It certainly can’t cure cavities, either. Once bacteria has penetrated the enamel of teeth, the decay is irreversible.

If you’re hoping that oil pulling will address everything that ails you, you’re probably barking up the wrong tree. Research studies very clearly indicate that the practice won’t “detoxify” your body, since it’s your kidneys and liver that do that work anyway. It won’t do much of anything for the parts of your body that aren’t inside your mouth.

That said, there’s certainly nothing wrong with the practice if you like doing it, just keep in mind that the jury is still out on whether it does more harm than good. Your teeth, gums and tongue are likely to benefit from the swishing of clean liquid around your mouth, and it’s possible that you’ll notice whiter teeth and healthier gums as a result. Just know that the benefits of pulling oil are about the same as pulling water or (better yet) antibacterial mouthwash through your teeth.

For more information about research on the benefits and detriments of oil pulling, watch the below video.

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