The 'Oil Pulling' Health Craze Works, Just Not in the Way You Think


What if I told you there was ancient folk remedy that could
improve your oral health, provide incredible detox benefits and also fix a
bajillion other things wrong with you right this very minute, except you have
to swish oil in your mouth every day for like 20 minutes? Eh? Yay? Maybe?
Intrigued? Me too. Let’s talk about “oil pulling,” the thing everyone
and their uncle is blogging about.

Like everyone cooler than you, I heard about oil pulling two
centuries years ago. Duh? No,
really: On a wild goose chase trying to alleviate my newfound recurring sinus
infections without having to get on the Claritin train, I ended up in the
online rabbit hole of natural medicine looking for “solutions.” You
know, where cures are secrets hidden from us by the evil government, where
vitamins are not simply life-improvers, they are life-savers. Where if people
would just eat whole foods, use natural things and get more vitamin D they
wouldn’t even NEED REAL DOCTORS.

Somebody said it cleared up allergies and
sinus probs. So I tried it a few times, but didn’t stick with it. But, still, I
marveled at how such a basic thing could allegedly provide so many overall benefits and wondered
if I’d ever be motivated to try it again. Well, now oil pulling or oil
“swishing” is everywhere, so let us revisit these wild claims by
talking to an actual doctor about it.

But first, what the Internet is saying:

What is oil pulling
or oil swishing?

Oil pulling is a folk remedy that originated in India (and
appears in an early text of Ayurvedic medicine, aka traditional Indian medicine, which is considered alternative medicine, the Charaka Samhita.)
You take a tablespoon of oil (many sites recommend sesame oil as the number one
best friend of all possible oils, but others swear by coconut or sunflower, while others warn against coconut) into your mouth
by morning and swish or pull it around and through your teeth and gums without
swallowing it. You do this for about 20 minutes. Then you spit it out. By the
act’s end, the oil is supposed to go from being clear to a white, milky
substance, as it is now loaded with toxins and bacteria it has drawn out via all that swishing. (Here
is a great guide to all that written by Dr. Sarah Villafranco, an emergency physician who is also a fan of
the technique).

Where do I spit it

Excellent question. Not in the sink or in your toilet! Don’t
clog the pipes! In the trash.

Is this going to be hard and require effort?

My jaw got crampy right away and it made me a little
nauseous cause I was being a giant noob, but advocates say you get used to it
and that ye old tired jaw means you’re probs doing it too fast. As in most homeopathic
style medicine, it’s also about relaxing and being calm and not speeding
through it like a madperson on a quest for insta-results. RELAX.

Do I really have to
do it for 20 minutes?

Not necessarily. Some folks say they get the job done in 10
to 15.

Every day?

Most people recommending it online seem to do it about four
to five times a week.

So what does it allegedly
do for you?

Allegedly it helps heal literally everything on or in your
body and makes it look better as well as improving all the things. I’m not
kidding. That
is what the people are saying
. A biomedical nutritionist and functional medicine specialist
I emailed with, Nancy Guberti, said she has seen some positive results:

coconut oil pulling works great for whitening the teeth but also acts as an
anti-bacterial, anti-viral — meaning it works on detox, sinuses, strengthens
gums, and teeth.
 Where we see it may not work is when one is not treating their
gastrointestinal issues and are bloated from candida overgrowth, intestinal parasites
and imbalance of good bacteria.
 Basically, oil pulling works nicely but we
cannot assume that it’s the end all and be all.

And yet, end-all-be-all it is touted as being. Among the
things it claims to help, according to a self-described “obsessed” superfan:

+ Whitens teeth
+ Strengthens your gums/teeth/& jaw. It helps with
sensitive teeth & even has reported to help TMJ sufferers like myself.
+ Prevents cavities & gingivitis. Some people even
reported it HEALED their cavities?! Not sure about that one… but who knows?!
+ Helps get rid of acne/ eczema/ psoriasis/ & other skin care
+ General body detox.
+ Cures a hangover (hallelujah!!!) & a migraine.
+ Helps with sleep issues.
+ Clears out your sinuses & helps allergy sufferers.
+ If you have halitosis, oil pulling has been a big
savior for many sufferers & your morning breath will get MUCH better (you
can now kiss your S.O. good morning w/o them cringing!).
+ Helps with general pain issues.
+ Manages any weird hormonal imbalances.
+ & so so so so much more.

She left out that it can also save your marriage and make
your teenager want to talk about their feelings. Zing! But look, if Deepak
Chopra says you can heal the body through your tongue, you best believe.

So does it really do
all this stuff or what?

Actually, yeah — but not like you think. I spoke with Dr. Sanda Moldovan, a periodontist in
Beverly Hills and a certified nutritionist (with a Masters in oral biology) who
teaches at UCLA’s dental school. She said a lot of people have been asking her
about oil pulling lately, and she’s happy to get the word out.

That word is basically this: Oil pulling is not magic — your
mouth is magic! At least, when it’s working properly it is, and it’s also a kind of gateway to overall health. Oil pulling is just one
of a couple of ways to super duper clean your mouth so that your body can focus
on healing other stuff and feel better.

In a nutshell, Moldovan told me by phone, the friction
created by oil pulling has a soap-like effect on your mouth. It doesn’t matter
what type of oil it is, sesame is just what would’ve beeen cheap and widely
available in the original communities who used it. Either way, it’s a great
method for helping reduce gingivitis. The reason, she said, is that oil
pulling does reduce bacteria in the
mouth — at least one
study has shown
it significantly reduces the strep mutans bacteria in
plaque and saliva that causes cavities.

However, the oil only goes about a millimeter deep, and more
serious infections are three, four, or five millimeters deep. “It should not be used for people with
gum disease,” Moldovan stressed. “Or they are going to end up losing
their teeth.”

But what about the other claims, from a
nutritional and health standpoint? Is it a big fix for all possible health
issues or what? Well yes, insomuch as a dramatic improvement in
oral health affects everything:

“When we improve oral health, we improve so many other
things in the body,” Moldovan said. “People with bad oral hygiene
have higher incidence for cardiovascular issues such as heart attack and
strokes, and a higher incidence for pneumonia. Men with periodontal disease
have a greater risk of erectile dysfunction. Even with diabetes, improved oral
health can help control problems in diabetic patients. Also, pregnant women with gum
disease have lower birth-weight babies. Yes — everything is

To say nothing of the connection to bad breath or
sore throats or other things that would likely be linked to constant infection
in the mouth. And what of the improved sinuses, and skin clarity, and cavity-healing people are raving about post-oil-swishing?

“Well, yes, the mouth is connected to the sinuses and
the ear canal, so people with improved oral hygiene can decrease ear infections
and sinus infections,” she said. “Tooth infections can be related to
sinus infections. But we’ve found improvement for that with Xylitol, too, a
sugar substitute. Toothpaste with Xylitol also decreases ear
infections in kids by 50 percent.”

What this means is that in the rush to give oil pulling the
thumbs up as a cure-all, what we’ve really just discovered is an old way to
clean your mouth more thoroughly than you probably are now. And it probably seems really appealing as a new and
improved thing to do, instead of just getting back in there with ye olde toothbrush
and floss. But doing that would also make you feel a lot better, too.

“When there is a healthier mouth, there is less
inflammation in the body, and overall then everything can heal, the skin is
better, you’re in a better mood, you have more energy, because gum disease — if
you have all this infection in the mouth, your body is constantly trying to
fight this bacteria to keep it from entering your body,” Moldovan said.
“That is stressful for us. That chronic infection in the mouth, once it
improves because we have better oral hygiene, we feel better and look

So yes, oil-pull away, because what you are doing is
finally, at long last, giving your mouth the attention it deserves. (And no, it
can’t heal cavities, but since it does reduce cavity-causing bacteria in the
mouth, it could slow or halt ones
that are already developing, she said.)

But don’t forget the caveats: Do not swallow the oil —
Moldovan said she did read an article about someone aspirating the oil and
developing pneumonia as a result of those toxin-loaded particles getting into
their lungs. This is not a substitute
for brushing your teeth altogether, as
some have suggested
. Moldovan actually recommends using an oral irrigator
as the ideal cleaner for getting between teeth and preventing inflammation. She
did say in her patients using oil-pulling, there is still inflammation between
the teeth, so flossing and oral irrigation are still ideal. And Nancy Guberti, whom I cited earlier, said, “If I had to choose between conventional tooth paste and oil pulling then I’d go with oil pulling.” (She recommends EarthPaste.)

Moldovan says she feels comfortable advising interested folks in
using oil pulling as substitute for mouthwash, but definitely not everything else. “Basically, brushing for two
minutes twice a day and Waterpiking is much, much better than oil pulling. It
can get in places the oil can’t. But if they want to use as substitute for
mouth rinse, that’s totally fine.”

Image via Shutterstock.

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