Oil pulling. Maybe you’ve seen something about it online, or maybe a friend swears by it—but you’re not sure exactly what it is. Oil pulling is a growing trend, but it’s not new. Oil pulling, also known as “kavala” or “gundusha,” is an ancient Ayurvedic dental technique that involves swishing a tablespoon of oil in your mouth on an empty stomach for around 20 minutes. This action supposedly draws out toxins in your body, primarily to improve oral health, but also to improve your overall health.
The reported benefits include:
- Whiter teeth
- Cavity and gingivitis prevention
- Better smelling
- Stronger teeth and gums
- Less jaw pain and fewer sleep and sinus issues
- Alleviation of headaches, hangovers, and skin issues such as acne, psoriasis, and eczema
A small study published in 2009 involving sesame oil and 20 adolescent boys with plaque-induced gingivitis found that oil pulling reduced plaque and the bacterium Streptococcus mutans. This bacterium is cited as a major cause of tooth decay, and overgrowth of bacteria in mouth can also lead to gum disease.
However, Mark Wolff, professor and chair at the New York University College of Dentistry, expresses skepticism about oil pulling’s effects on oral health. “I am not sure there is any harm, but I have never seen it have any positive effect on my patients who have been using oil pulling.” Oil pulling should never replace routine dental visits and traditional home oral care. It doesn’t reverse the effects of tooth decay, but it’s a great supplemental therapy.
If you want to try oil pulling, start by picking an oil. Most people use coconut oil, as it has strong antibacterial properties, but you can use any other vegetable-based oil. Then, take a tablespoon of oil and swish it around your mouth for 20 minutes. Once the 20 minutes are up, spit the oil out into the trash (not your sink, where the oil may solidify and block up the drain) and swish your mouth with warm salt water. Finally, brush and floss as you normally would.
You might experience some of the positive effects immediately, or it may take a few days or even weeks to see results. There can also be negative side effects if an improper technique is used, including dry mouth, excessive thirst, muscular stiffness, exhaustion, and loss of sensation or taste in the mouth.
According to the American Dental Association, the potential health benefits of oil pulling have clear limitations. Existing studies are unreliable for a number of reasons, including the misinterpretation of results due to small sample size, confounders, absence of negative controls, lack of demographic information, and lack of blinding. Scientific studies have not provided the necessary clinical evidence that oil pulling reduces the incidence of dental caries, whitens teeth, or improves oral health and well-being. Various over-the-counter products and oral health practices may promise therapeutic effects when used, but only through rigorous scientific analysis can the dental profession be assured of a product or therapy’s effectiveness and safety.
Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions.