Oil Pulling Risky Substitute For Tried-&-True Oral Care Steps

added on: October 28, 2015

I’m all for ‘new & improved’ ways to do things. For example, when GPS devices hit the market, I was thrilled to know I could avoid wasting time and gas trying to find unfamiliar destinations.

As a dentist, of course I keep up with the latest ways to achieve and maintain a healthy, confident smile. A recent one I’m following is called ‘oil pulling.’  Although this is certainly new, I don’t feel the same about the ‘improved’ part.

Oil pulling involves holding coconut, sesame, olive or palm oil in the mouth for 3-5 minutes while it is swished around. The practice supposedly pulls impurities from the mouth to eliminate bacteria and toxins from the body.

While oil pulling has recently gained more attention from internet exposure, it is actually an ancient folk remedy. This holistic medicine practice is said to balance the body’s doshas, which claim to balance susceptibility to disease. When performed for oral benefits, oil pulling is said to improve gum problems, eliminate plaque and even whiten teeth.

In reading the claims on the internet, according to some users (both those who are well-versed in holistic medicine and those who try to adhere to it), I’ve also looked into the position of the American Dental Association (ADA) on the subject.

The ADA has been following oil pulling’s claims by carefully scrutinizing recent research. What it has found is that, in spite of the ‘wonder drug’ accolades from some users, oil pulling is no more effective than mouthwash. When it comes to reducing bad breath and oral bacteria, findings show that oil pulling is no more effective than mouthwashes containing chlorhexidine, a common ingredient in most.

Personally, I don’t find where oil pulling could be detrimental to your oral health. Research does show that there are advantages to oil pulling, such as helping with dry mouth. So, for people who are more inclined to practice oil pulling than using mouthwash, that’s a positive since it’s deemed “as effective.” At this time, however, the ADA cites a “lack of science” and does not recommend oil pulling as a supplement to oral hygiene nor as a substitute to traditional oral health care methods.

The ADA is closely monitoring research related to oil pulling since they feel past studies have been inadequate to support claims. The ADA states, “scientific studies have not provided the necessary clinical evidence to demonstrate that oil pulling reduces the incidence of dental caries, whitens teeth or improves oral health and well-being.” They list concerns such as sampling that has been too small, the lack of demographic information and having no blind testing. 

In the dental field, overall, there is  a concern that people may perceive  that oil pulling can replace the tried-&-true methods of oral hygiene. While brushing and flossing may seem ‘old hat’ ways to enjoy a healthy smile, this twice-daily routine has proven to be a safe, effective way to have good dental health. For those who feel oil pulling can replace these steps, they run the risk of developing cavities and gum disease.

While I certainly would never support unsubstantiated claims for new methods to achieve a healthy smile, I do like one thing, in particular, about oil pulling. Things that don’t harm or disrupt oral wellness routines but do draw attention to its importance are okay with me. I’d much rather see someone who rarely brushes begin to use oil pulling on a regular basis than do nothing at all. Perhaps forming a habit of swishing with oil twice daily will remind the individual that oral wellness is part of maintaining overall health. From there, they will hopefully become more aware of the benefits of a healthy mouth, opening the door for even more progress to having a clean mouth and appealing smile.

Fads come and go. Even if oil pulling stays around, I see little reason to worry as long as it doesn’t cause people to assume it’s a replacement for time tested oral hygiene steps.