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Oil Pulling: Is It All It’s Cracked Up To Be?

Today’s modern version of oil pulling is based off of an Ayurvedic Indian tradition that was developed thousands of years ago. Designed to pull toxins from your body, this technique is primarily glorified as improving oral health — but it also reportedly has total body benefits. According to this review of holistic practices: it may alleviate about “30 systemic diseases ranging from headache, migraine to diabetes and asthma.” How does the reality of this practice stack up against the hype?

The Basics:

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The modern version is a spin-off of two ancient Ayurveda techniques, kavala (swishing oil) and gandusha/gandusa (holding oil), both of which last 2-5 minutes.

Modern Day Oil Pulling:

  1. Pick an oil. Any vegetable oil will work, like sesame, coconut, or sunflower oil. However, coconut oil has the added benefit of lauric acid, which contains anti-microbial agents that offer a wider range of protection. (Plus it has a lovely tropical scent.)
  2. Take 1-2 tablespoons of oil and swish it around in your mouth for 10-20 minutes. Coconut oil is solid at room temperature, but it will melt in your mouth. If you are just starting out, go with a smaller amount of oil and shortened time period. Too much oil can make you gag, especially since the amount of liquid in your mouth by the end of the 10-20 minutes will have doubled because of saliva. If your jaw gets sore, ease up on the swishing or spit it out early.
  3. Spit it out into a garbage can (not the sink since the oil can harden and wreak havoc on your pipes).
  4. Rinse with warm water and/or brush your teeth to rid your mouth of any excess oil.

The reasoning behind the 20-minute time frame is that the longer you swish, the more toxins you pull away from your gums and teeth. However, the flip side of that is swishing too long potentially allows the toxins to be reabsorbed.

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Additional Tips

  • Use organic, extra-virgin, cold-pressed coconut oil for the most natural option.
  • Don’t swallow! The whole point is to remove toxins, so you definitely don’t want to reabsorb those into your body.
  • Typically, you want to do this in the morning, before you’ve eaten anything. The reasoning here is that you pull out all the toxins that have gathered in your mouth overnight.
  • Oil pulling is not a replacement for brushing and flossing your teeth — but rather a complementary action.

What Are The (Real) Benefits?

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Limited Studies Shows Promise

There have been a limited amount of studies in this area, contributing to its lack of acceptance by the medical community. However, in one study, 20 adolescent boys with plaque-induced gingivitis were divided randomly into an oil-pulling group (using sesame oil) and a group that used chlorhexidine mouthwash. At the end of the study, there was “statistically significant” reduction of plaque in both groups, as well as a “considerable” reduction in microorganisms. Another study showed similar statistically significant results.

Your Dentist Doesn’t Approve

The American Dental Association doesn’t recognize this practice. They need solid evidence, and so far the results have been skimpy. Per the ADA’s policy, “the provision of dental care should be based on sound scientific principles and demonstrated clinical safety and effectiveness.” For them, oil pulling doesn’t hold up.

Personal Experience

I wanted to see what all the hubbub was about, so I tried oil pulling for five days. While I can’t speak to the detoxification or plaque reduction, I did notice some benefits. My teeth felt clean and smooth, and my breath seemed fresher. My lips grew softer, too (which was my favorite benefit, since winter can leave them easily chapped). I couldn’t really tell if my teeth were whiter, but once again, I didn’t do this for that many days in a row. It was a little uncomfortable holding the oil in my mouth as it melted because the texture was lumpy and grainy, but the flavor and scent were nicely tropical. Once the oil melted, it was much easier to bear, and the 15 minutes went by rather quickly because I kept myself preoccupied with my typical morning routine.

Is It Worth It?

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Studies are small and underwhelming. There doesn’t appear to be much affect on your overall health and it shouldn’t be used as a replacement for brushing, flossing, or dental cleanings. However, it can lead to a healthier mouth, and fitting it into your morning routine is relatively painless!

Do you use oil pulling? Let us know in the comments and tell us what you’ve noticed!

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C. Kramer is back in the Mitten State after a brief residency in the Sunshine State. She has an adorable dog-child, and enjoys reading, writing, going to the theatre, and finding pins on Pinterest. Her mother is a breast cancer survivor.