What is oil pulling?
Oil pulling involves swishing oil (organic, unrefined and all those other expensive adjectives) around in your mouth for an extended amount of time (20 minutes). It comes from traditional Ayurvedic Indian natural medicine, and supposedly pulls out toxins, prevents cavities, reduces harmful bacteria (but magically stays away from the good ones), whitens teeth, improves gums, asthma, diabetes, arthritis, hangovers, hormone disorders … but not gullibility, I guess.
Let’s tick off our pseudoscience list:
- ancient wisdom
- corporations are hiding dis
- cures a whole bunch of unrelated conditions
- can involve trendy coconut oil
One tiny study found that swishing oil around for 10-15 minutes reduced bad breath and bad breath-causing bacteria as well as 1 minute of swishing mouthwash, except you get an extra 9-14 minutes of standing around in your bathroom contemplating what your life has become if you oil pull. They found exactly the same thing with dental plaque.
The same group proposed a possible mechanism for how oil pulling works:
Sesamin and sesamolin isolated from sesame oil did not have any antibacterial effect against oral microorganisms like Streptococcus mutans, Streptococcus mitis and Streptococcus viridans. Emulsification of sesame oil occurs during oil-pulling therapy. Increased consumption of NaOH in titration is a definite indication of a possible saponification process.
Saponification means soap-making – in other words, some of the oil might have turned into soap in the mouth, which would help clean the teeth. If that’s the main way that oil pulling works, then why not rinse with soapy water instead? (Because then how would we work coconut oil into this fad? Oh, OK.)
There haven’t been any other reasonably good studies done on oil pulling.
Swishing oil around in your mouth is going to clean your teeth… but so will swishing anything, and there are more effective things to use than oil.
Oil pulling might also dissolve some oil-soluble things that brushing and flossing might not get, such as stains.
Some people can’t afford mouthwash, and so oil pulling is a slightly cheaper alternative (although if you listen to the people who insist on specialty, non-GMO, organic oils, it’ll probably end up being more expensive).
Nothing gets “pulled” out of your blood stream, or body – it’s just the bits of your mouth in contact with the oil that might – might – be affected.
Placebo effect, everywhere!
What should I do instead?
Brush your teeth, floss and use mouthwash. You know, regular dental hygiene. Fry up some kale with your oil instead.