Oil pulling has increased in popularity over the past few years and has emerged as an alternative to more traditional dental hygiene methods. There are tons of references to oil pulling in mainstream media as well as on social media platforms. Over the past year or so, our office has fielded inquiries from some patients about the effectiveness of oil pulling.
Although the practice of oil pulling has recently generated more online chatter, it is not a new technique. On the contrary, it is believed to have originated several thousand years ago in India. The technique of oil pulling involves swishing a high- quality oil (usually coconut, sesame, or sunflower oil) in the mouth for roughly 20 minutes and then spitting it out. The belief is that this practice helps remove plaque from the teeth, pulls toxins from the mouth (thereby preventing tooth decay), and helps whiten teeth.
We found a plethora of articles online that reference studies on oil-pulling and its effectiveness in reducing plaque and harmful bacteria in the mouth. But there were just as many studies that found that rinsing with mouthwash or water and chewing on sugar-free gum afforded the same benefits. It would appear that both oil pulling as well as traditional brushing, flossing and rinsing with a dental mouth rinse can increase saliva production and decrease the adherence of plaque to the teeth. But let’s not rush to throw out our toothbrushes and floss.
It is likely that oil pulling can facilitate the removal of plaque from the visible surfaces of the teeth, but it cannot remove the plaque from in between the teeth or from below the gumline. Only traditional brushing and flossing can accomplish that. Oil pulling can help prevent plaque from accumulating on the teeth, but the mechanical action of a toothbrush and floss coupled with the abrasives found in toothpaste are what can competently remove plaque and keep the teeth and gums in good condition. We, therefore, do not recommend replacing brushing and flossing with oil pulling and would advise against eliminating routine in-office dental cleanings. Natural solutions can help but should be used as an adjunct or supplement to regular brushing and flossing.