Oil Pulling: A Surge of Popularity for Ancient Hygienic Practice

Thursday, 13 Mar 2014 08:57 AM

By Nick Sanchez

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Swishing mouthwash is a standard hygienic practice for millions of Americans, but the ancient practice of oil pulling has seen a recent surge in popularity. Many claim it can cure dozens of ailments, from plaque buildup to anorexia. Others say it has limited value.

Oil pulling is rooted in Ayurveda, an ancient Indian medicine system of 3,000-plus years ago. It advises practitioners to swish everyday oils, like sesame or sunflower oil, around their mouths until the oils becomes thin and whitish in color. Accustomed to a shorter rinse time with traditional mouthwash, many newcomers may need to work up to the task; oil pulling often takes upwards of 20 minutes to complete.

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The Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine claims that "oil pulling has been used extensively as a traditional Indian folk remedy for many years to prevent decay, oral malodor, bleeding gums, dryness of throat, cracked lips and for strengthening teeth, gums and the jaw."

Beyond the immediate mouth area, the journal asserts that oil pulling can also benefit "dry face, dull senses, exhaustion, anorexia, loss of taste, impaired vision, [and] sore throat."

Sound too good to be true? According to the few published clinical trials available, it might be.

Some mouth bacteria that causes bad breath and gingivitis can be killed with oil pulling, but some experts say it fails as a comprehensive cure-all.

Loma Linda University Associate Professor of Dental Hygiene Michelle Hurlbutt, RDH, MSDH, told the Huffington Post, "[Oil pulling] should not be used to treat oral disease such as gum disease or tooth decay. It's more of a preventive rinse that could be used adjunctively with your regular mouthcare routine."

Similarly, Houston dentist Dr. Wayne Brueggen told CBS affiliate KHOU that "it can't hurt." However, he doubts the efficiency of the method.

In an unpublished clinical trial, Hurlbutt found that a bacteria linked to cavity risk, Streptococcus mutans, was significantly reduced in test groups after a two-week regimen of daily oil pulling with either sesame oil or coconut oil.

"She found that the sesame oil group experienced a five-fold decrease in the bacteria as compared to the water group [the control group], while the coconut oil group experienced a two-fold decrease. But after the daily oil pulling stopped, levels of the bad bacteria began to creep up again," according to the Huffington Post. 

Concluding her study, Hurlbutt deemed it "promising," and said oil pulling is ripe for more comprehensive studies and trials.

In the meantime, she also recommended oil pulling enthusiasts stay away from spitting in the sink, because oil will clog the pipes.

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