In recent years you may have heard of a new phenomenon that is sweeping the dental hygiene market – oil pulling. Basically, oil pulling is when you swish a type of oil around your mouth for 3-20 minutes with the aim of removing any plaque and other harmful bacteria. The oil used can be any number of varieties, and a quick google search will find plenty of sites that recommend everything from sunflower oil to coconut oil, extolling the virtues of each and the supposed benefits to health and overall wellbeing.
But does oil pulling actually work or is it just another fad pseudoscience?
The history of oil pulling goes back quite far. A traditional part of Ayurvedic medicine, the practise has been performed for thousands of years by those in India from which it originates. However, it has only been recently that this method of tooth cleaning has really reached a global audience, and today it has become the championed technique of beauty bloggers, health enthusiasts and all manner of online personalities.
In one way this raises an interesting question – if it has been done for so long surely there must be some real benefit to it? We must remember is that there are plenty of things that humanity has done for thousands of years that science has proven to have little benefit. On the other hand, there are an equal number of examples where thousand-year-old remedies have proven to have a positive impact – such as when the people of old would chew cloves in order to help treat tooth pain. Today, clove oil is still used in a wide array of dental products due to its numbing agent and antimicrobial properties.[i]
So, what benefits are promised from oil pulling? Few sources seem to agree, with some claiming that it only removes plaque whilst overs say it can help whiten teeth, heal bleeding gums and even prevent heart disease.
The best way to ascertain the legitimacy of any of these fads is to look at the studies that support them. A literature review that gathered together the majority of the available evidence offers a mixed response. One study within the review thought that oil pulling was just as effective as the use of a good mouthwash. This indeed would mean that oil pulling is likely to decrease levels of bacteria, help gums to remain healthy and even ward off the dangers of heart disease (as heart disease is so implicitly linked with gum disease). However, one thing to consider is that the sample sizes of most of these studies or the methods used were either too small or improper, meaning that much of this information could be incidental.[ii]
As such, it’s impossible to tell at the moment whether oil pulling has any real benefit. It certainly doesn’t seem to cause any harm, but that doesn’t mean it can be a reliable substitute for normal tooth brushing, flossing and mouthwashes. If you are dedicated to oil pulling, I think it might be worth adding it to your dental routine alongside brushing and flossing, but it certainly shouldn’t replace them.
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[i] The British Library. Clove. Link: https://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/onlineex/spicetrail/clove/index.html [Last accessed May 19].