By Jessica Wortsman
By now you’ve surely all seen something about it. There isn’t a Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest feed that hasn’t been advocating the merits of oil-pulling over the last few months. Even celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Shailene Woodley are touting its supposed benefits making oral hygiene very au courant.
So what exactly is oil-pulling, you ask? This ancient Ayurvedic medicinal practice involves swishing 1 tablespoon of oil in the mouth without swallowing (much like you would with mouthwash) for a period of 20 minutes each morning before eating. Traditionally, sesame oil has been used for its numerous health benefits but more recently, coconut oil has gained popularity with oil-pullers for its superior antifungal and antibacterial properties. Practitioners believe that the process of oil-pulling helps whiten teeth and remedy a number of dental issues ranging from tooth decay, gingivitis, and halitosis. Some ardent devotees even claim that continued and consistent oil-pulling can help treat ailments like bronchitis, arthritis, heart disease and even leukemia by virtue of the oil’s ability to “pull” toxins from your body.
Can this be true? Can simply swishing some oil around in your mouth actually rid your body of serious diseases? Unfortunately, there is no scientific data out there to support these claims. When asked for his professional opinion, Toronto-based dentist Dr. Phillip Tzemis who has been practicing dentistry for over 25 years clarified that “the idea of the oil pulling out toxins from the blood through the membranes of the mouth would mean that those membranes be semi-permeable – which they are not.”
How about oil-pulling as an effective practice in maintaining oral health? While several small studies concluded that oil-pulling, using sesame oil, is as effective as chlorhexidine gluconate (the active ingredient in many mouthwashes) in reducing halitosis, oral bacteria responsible for tooth decay, as well as plaque-induced gingivitis, there have been no large-scale, long-term studies yet conducted on the technique.
So where does that leave us? As Dr. Tzemis noted, while swishing with either coconut or sesame oil has little proven beneficial effect, it neither has any proven harmful effect. Hmmm. In that case, if you’re not averse to the flavor and have some time to kill in the morning, why not give it a try?
As a natural health and beauty enthusiast, this was right up my alley. For the past two months, I’ve been a hopeful, if somewhat inconsistent, oil-puller. Though I missed a day here and there and occasionally couldn’t swing the necessary AM time slot, I’d say I gave it a fair go. My results? To date, inconclusive. I began my trial oil-pulling period immediately following a dental cleaning because it made sense to start with a clean slate. Although my teeth do seem to have maintained that fresh-from-the-dentist sparkle, the real test will be in 4 months when I’m back at the dentist for my next cleaning. For now, I think of oil-pulling as my natural mouthwash alternative and plan to continue using it as a compliment to my regular brushing and flossing. Can’t hurt, right?
You really want to gargle grease? Do it cleanly: Use pure, cold-pressed sesame and sunflower oil; and unrefined coconut oil. After swishing, spit the oil into the trash to avoid clogging your drain.