What is Oil Pulling and Why You Need To Do It
For the record, a regular oil-pulling routine should not replace routine dental visits and traditional at-home oral care. That being said, I do believe that it is a great supplemental therapy. The phrase “oil pulling” comes from the process of the oil being “worked” in the mouth by pulling, pushing, and sucking it through the teeth. This type of oral therapy isn’t new at all; it has its origins in Ayurvedic medicine dating back 3,000 years.
The procedure involves rinsing (swishing) approximately one tablespoon of oil around in your mouth. As the oil hits your teeth and gums, microbes are picked up as though they are being drawn to a powerful magnet. Bacteria hiding under crevices in the gums and in pores and tubules within the teeth are sucked out of their hiding places and held firmly in the solution.
The longer you push and pull the oil through your mouth, the more microbes are pulled free. The oil needs to be swished around long enough for it to turn a milky white, which indicates that the bacteria has been "pulled" off. After roughly 10 - 20 minutes the solution is filled with bacteria, viruses and other -organisms; at this point, the person spits out the oil and rinses thoroughly with water.
People that “oil pull” state that it has helped whiten their teeth, alleviate halitosis, reduce gingivitis as well as relieve gum and tooth sensitivity.
The Oils Used
Most microorganisms inhabiting the mouth consist of a single cell. Cells are covered with a lipid (fatty) membrane, which is the cell’s skin. When these cells come into contact with oil, “a fat,” they naturally adhere to each other.
Coconut oil is preferred because 50% of the fat in coconut oil is comprised of the bacteria whooping ingredient lauric acid. Lauric acid is very well known for its antimicrobial actions; it inhibits Strep mutans that are the primary bacteria that cause tooth decay. With that in mind, it should be no surprise that recent studies have shown the benefit of coconut oil in the prevention of tooth decay.
There is no question that oil pulling lessens the bacterial load in the mouth. As we all know, the mouth is the gateway to the body. When you consider the fact that a clean mouth may have between 1,000 and 100,000 bacteria on each tooth, and those that do not have a clean mouth may have between 100 million and a billion bacteria on each tooth, surely oil pulling can’t hurt? I know the immune system would appreciate a little coconut oil as part of a regular routine. We all want to do what we can to function at the optimal level of health. So, why not oil pull as part of your daily routine? Other than taking a little extra time, what’s the downside?
On a more serious note, we pre-medicate patients that are immuno-compromised before dental visits to prevent illness. If bad bacteria enter the body through the bloodstream and get lodged in the wrong place, such as scar tissue on the heart, a person can become very sick. Bacterial infection is the most common cause of endocarditis, which begins when different germs enter the bloodstream and then travel to the heart. We are well aware that bacteria enter the bloodstream during dental treatment. Patients with MVP (mitral valve prolapse), artificial joints or major surgery need to be pre-medicated. The more inflamed the tissues (gingivitis), the more blood and bad bacteria from inside the mouth can travel into the body.
Several other studies also strongly suggest a link between the bacteria in your mouth and serious diseases. Streptococcus mutans is known to cause diseases such as pneumonia, meningitis and sinusitis to name a few. So, when there is clear evidence that many diseases and conditions are influenced by the mouth’s ecology and bacteria, why hasn’t oil pulling been encouraged by dental professionals as a supplemental therapy for patients? It’s a valid question; after all we are in the business of “preventing” oral health problems, right? Not just fixing them? While it will likely draw some skepticism from some of my peers, I think it’s a subject that merits further discussion among dental professionals.
If patients embrace oil pulling as part of their daily teeth cleaning regimen, they should adhere to few guidelines:
If patients prefer holistic approaches, I recommend letting them give oil pulling a try. In conclusion, I believe we should recognize the link between bacteria in the mouth and systemic health not just oral health. I’m certain that oil pulling can’t hurt you. When used in conjunction with regular brushing and flossing, I’m convinced it will actually help you.
Lori Lawrence, R.D.H., N.H.C.