In recent years, oil pulling has peaked in popularity. Red-carpet celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Shailene Woodley swear by the technique, asserting that oil pulling naturally whitens teeth and freshens breath. And naturally, thousands upon thousands of fans have followed suit, claiming to have almost miraculous results.
But is oil pulling as beneficial to your teeth as it seems?
Here are a few of the most important things you should know about oil pulling and its effects.
1. It’s in a Scientific Gray Area
Oil pulling isn’t a newly discovered trend in pseudo-science. In fact, the technique has long been a traditional Ayurveda treatment for reducing dry mouth and inflammation.
Researchers have had plenty of time to conduct a few studies on oil pulling’s effectiveness. In one study, experts found that oil pulling reduced S. Mutans (bacteria known to cause cavities and tooth decay) levels in two weeks. Researchers concluded that oil pulling could maintain and even improve oral health.
But the American Dental Association isn’t too impressed with the research just yet. The conducted studies often had a cultural bias, a small sample size, and a lack of negative controls. Additional clinical evidence is needed to fully determine the oral effects oil pulling has and whether it compares to other oral hygiene practices.
While anecdotal evidence shows promise, you might want to keep your toothbrush and floss handy until more information becomes available.
2. It Can’t Treat Gum Disease
According to a study published in the Nigeria Medical Journal, oil pulling with coconut oil reduced plaque formation and plaque-induced gingivitis. Adolescents who practiced oil pulling for 30 days exhibited a statistically significant decrease in gingival indices.
However, researchers have not proven whether oil pulling removes enough bacteria to decrease the risk of cavities, nor have they compared the effectiveness to the brushing and flossing. While oil pulling could work well for those with relatively healthy teeth and gums, the technique doesn’t present a reliable cure for gingivitis and gum disease.
In severe infections, the gums inflame, swell, and pull away from the teeth, creating pockets that even more bacteria can hide. As gingivitis progresses, these pockets increase from a healthy two or three millimeter depth to a four or five millimeter depth (or more).
As the oils slide along the gum’s surface, they likely won’t fight or remove plaque lodged deep within the gums. Only a professional scaling (scraping) and root planning can clean tartar from below the gum line, so don’t skip out on your dentist appointment just yet.
3. It May Lead to Side Effects
Many people assert that oil pulling causes no side effects and that the technique is completely safe for anyone to try. But as with many other aspects of oil pulling, the side effects need additional study and analyzation.
Some practitioners warn against using improper oil pulling techniques. If performed incorrectly, oil pulling could result in muscular stiffness and exhaustion, excessive thirst, and dry mouth. Others have noted diarrhea, upset stomach, nausea, and flu-like symptoms.
In a few rare cases, individuals who inhaled the oils while oil pulling developed lipoid pneumonia. Symptoms of the condition varied from asymptomatic to life-threatening, but lipoid pneumonia often results in a chronic cough, chest pain, and intermittent fever.
Talk to Your Dentist Before You Try Oil Pulling
Oil pulling has the potential to improve oral health when combined with other solid habits. Rinsing your mouth regularly could stimulate saliva production, which in turn fights bacteria and lifts stains.
But oil pulling isn’t for everyone, even if it does seem to give your favorite celebrities a winning smile or your best friend fresh breath. If you try to use the technique as a cure-all or a substitute for scientifically proven practices, you may find yourself with more cavities than you anticipated.
If you are curious about trying oil pulling, talk to your dentist about the risks and whether it would benefit your teeth and gums.