Thursday, August 7, 2014

Oil Pulling - Fab or Fad?

Oil pulling is an method of oral cleansing that has its origins in Ayurveda, a 3,000 year old Indian medical system.  Ayurvedic medicine is steeped in tradition and has at its core a belief in herbal and natural ingredients, diet, nutrition, and exercise, as well as the interrelationship of a person's health, environment, and the universe.

There has been a lot of interest recently regarding oil pulling and the benefit of oils in general.  Oil pulling is said to cleanse toxins from the mouth, teeth and gums, cure toothaches, freshen breath and whiten teeth.  The traditional method of oil pulling involves swishing sesame seed oil over, between and around the teeth and tongue for 10 to 20 minutes or more. It is important to not gargle with or swallow the oil.  The oil is spit out when it becomes thin and white in color.  Coconut oil and grape seed oil, due to their anti-bacterial properties, have also become popular for oil pulling.  Other oils can be used but are not considered to have the same health benefits.  Oil pulling is anecdotally lauded as beneficial and some small research studies have yielded positive results for it's antibacterial properties similar to conventional rinses like chlorhexidine.

Essential oils such as those used in Listerine mouthwash - eucalyptol, menthol, methyl salicylate, and thymol - have been well established through research and use as beneficial and antiseptic.  Listerine was the first antiseptic used in medical procedures and is named after Sir Joseph Lister, who introduced the first hygiene procedures in surgery, like hand washing and sterilizing instruments, during the 1860s.  It seems, then, that oils have their place in both medical and oral health history.

So what's the problem with oil pulling? After all, it uses natural ingredients that are relatively inexpensive and is an established practice of an ancient Indian medical system.  Here's the problem: to benefit from oil pulling's anti-bacterial properties it must be done for 10 to 15 minutes - minimum. Twenty minutes is thought to be optimal.  Consider the fact that many people often find it difficult to brush for the recommend two minutes, two times a day!

In order to try oil pulling for myself, I used an oil I had on hand (olive) and could not continue past three minutes.  Nothing about the experience made me want to become proficient at it and I'm pretty open to new methods of oral hygiene.  Sesame seed oil, the oil traditionally used, has a much stronger taste so I doubt I'd be any more successful using that.  I also think that swishing with any non-sweetened liquid, even water, for twenty minutes, would have some cleansing benefits.  Hopefully, more research will be done on this interesting practice.

So, with all due respect to those who successfully perform this practice as part of their health regimen, oil pulling is not for everyone.  Successfully adopting it into a daily dental hygiene routine does not seem practical or more beneficial as compared with other methods of hygiene.  Oil pulling will most likely prove to be a passing health and beauty fad, except for the most tenacious of people already dedicated to the practice.

Have you tried oil pulling?  I invite your comments or questions.

This blog is for entertainment purposes only.  It is not intended to treat or diagnose any condition or illness.  Please visit your doctor or dentist if you have medical or dental concerns.

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Questions or comments?