Oil pulling: does it work?

Oil pulling is the latest craze sweeping the oral health world. Some people swear by this morning ritual, claiming that its benefits are numerous. But does it actually have any effect?

Despite its name, oil pulling doesn’t really involve much pulling, at least not on your part. This age-old oral cleansing method originates from Ayurvedic medicine and involves swishing oil around your mouth.

More than 3,000 years ago, Ayurvedic natural medicine text Charaka Samhita claimed that ‘oil gargling’ could act as a natural remedy for oral diseases. Oil pulling is supposed to ‘pull’ bacteria and other debris from the teeth and gums, in turn strengthening teeth and promoting immunity.

Today alternative medicine advocates are embracing the practice. Websites devoted to oil pulling are sprouting up across the internet, as wellness bloggers claim it’s changed their lives.

To properly perform the technique, you should suck one or two teaspoons of oil in your mouth for 20 minutes each morning. It’s like gargling with mouthwash, only for longer and on an empty stomach.

After pulling the oil should be spat out, because by that stage it will apparently be loaded with toxins. You should then rinse your mouth thoroughly and clean your teeth as normal to kill off any remaining bacteria.

Oil pulling is claimed to cleanse the mouth of toxins like heavy metals, parasites, pesticides, preservatives, additives, hormones and other environmental toxins.

According to anecdotal evidence, the practice promises not just a brighter smile, but also better overall health. Supporters of oil pulling say it can treat chronic pain, insomnia, cavities, allergies, thrombosis, diabetes, asthma, bad breath, gingivitis, digestive issues, meningitis, low energy, heart disease, kidney disease, PMS, leukaemia and even AIDS.

Yet despite its growing popularity, there is no scientific evidence to back oil pulling’s supposed benefits.

Derek Lewis, an Australian Dental Association Oral Health Committee member, is sceptical.

“Some of the claims about oil pulling are really quite extraordinary,” he says. “You have to be suspicious when something offers such a broad spectrum of benefits.

“I’d rather patients spend 20 minutes just brushing with fluoridated toothpaste, flossing, eating the right foods and avoiding fizzy drinks – all the usual proven but boring things, but the things that we know work.”

A dentist for more than three decades, Dr Lewis says oil pulling is unlikely to cause damage to the mouth.

“There’s no potential to cause damage that I can understand because there’s really nothing much in the oil. But whether that amount of rinsing changes the bacteria load or changes the flora in the mouth for better or worse is unknown, and it’s unlikely there will be any research,” he says.

“There’s no evidence to show that it works so it cannot be recommended as an appropriate part of oral hygienic measures. It certainly shouldn’t take place of routine brushing twice a day and flossing once a day.”

Sesame, sunflower or coconut oil is most commonly used in oil pulling, and is sometimes herbalized with turmeric to enhance its effect.

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