Oil pulling… what is it??
The quick answer… Oil pulling is where you swish 1 tsp to 1 Tbsp of any seed-based oil in your mouth for 10-20 minutes.
Oil Pulling History
Oil pulling has been around for a very long time (at least 3,000 years), though recently has become more and more popular.
It was originally used as an ancient Ayurveda gargling treatment for inflammation in the mouth, mouth dryness, and other oral ailments. It has also been long used for headaches, hormone imbalances, congestion and much more.
Although it has been around for nearly forever, it hasn’t been “mainstream” at all. Over the past few years oil pulling has been gaining popularity once again among the natural health advocates. Many people have reported reversing cavities, whitening teeth, reducing oral sensitivities, increasing energy, and even helping relieve TMJ. I don’t know how accurate those claims are, but there is some science to oil pulling’s abilities to enhance oral health.
I don’t personally recommend oil-pulling as a surefire treatment to anything. If you’re having dental issues, please consult with a dentist. Oil-pulling is fantastic for preventative health, but should only be used as a treatment under the care of a dental health professional such as a dentist or holistic dentist.
Oil Pulling Benefits
A more extreme use for oil pulling is the treatment of disease. Some say that oil pulling cures cancer and other diseases by pulling toxins out of the body. In fact, oil pulling is cited as a cure for 30 different diseases.
Original practitioners of oil pulling used sunflower and sesame oils as a way to prevent bleeding gums, decay, dryness of throat, oral malodor, cracked lips and for strengthening teeth, gums and the jaw.
Does oil pulling work?
A question I often see asked is whether there are side effects to swishing oil in your mouth. Not really. If you swallow, you could end up with a stomach ache or other digestive symptoms for swallowing that much oil and the bacteria from your mouth. You should always spit out the oil after swishing.
A few studies for you to look through, if you’re an information nerd, like I am:
In 2009, a study published in the Indian Journal of Dental Research found that sesame oil reduced plaque, modified gingival scores, and lowered microorganisms in the plaque of adolescents with plaque-induced gingivitis.
A 2011 study published in the Journal of the Indian Society of Pedodontics and Preventive Dentistry found oil pulling to be as effective as chlorhexidine in the treatment of bad breath. Another study in 2014 published in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research found oil pulling with sesame oil helped reduced the amount of microbes causing bad breath just as much as using a chlorhexidine treatment.
** It is important to keep in mind the above studies had small sample sizes and did not use negative controls. They did not find that oil pulling was an “adequate treatment.” They simply found that using sesame oil worked just as well as a treatment with chlorhexidine, which is an antimicrobial mouth rinse. I don’t recommend taking their results as Gospel because of the limitations they endured… but I do think the studies strongly indicate the benefits of oil pulling on a scientific level should be explored more.
How Do You Oil Pull?
Initially, oil pulling was done with either sunflower or sesame oil, but coconut oil seems to be the most popular oil to use because of its affordability and availability. While you can use any seed-based cooking oil (like avocado, olive, sesame, sunflower, coconut…etc), I’ve found that sunflower and coconut oil are the most palatable for me. I do recommend you give it a shot and try a few different options before settling on what works best for you. I do tend to use coconut oil more because it is easier to find, especially when we can pick up a giant tub at Costco.
My favorite oil to use is coconut oil. I’m not a big fan of the coconut flavor, but have found the oil doesn’t actually have a strong coconut flavor, and I usually add a drop of lemon or orange essential oil to it anyways, so the flavor doesn’t bother me as much. The texture can be a bit off-putting at first, but it doesn’t take many tries to overcome the texture. Start slow. Only swish for as long as you can tolerate. When I first started, I could only swish the oil for a couple minutes.
I started with a tea spoon of coconut oil (warmed enough to be liquid), and popped it in my mouth and vigorously swished for as long as I could. All the experts say 20 mins, but mouth muscles take some time to develop… and lets face it… the consistency of coconut oil isn’t the most appealing thing to hold in your mouth for long periods of time.
I recommend you start slow and work your way up. Go as long as you can… even if it is 15 excruciating seconds. Build yourself up, challenging yourself to go a little longer each day. It took me about a week and a half to increase my oil pulling time to 20 minutes. I strongly recommend doing something while you swish, like take a shower… walk the dog… read a book… do some stretches… something to take your mind off how the oil feels swishing through your mouth.
Quick Tip: if you’re using unrefined coconut oil… DO NOT spit in the sink! Unrefined coconut oil turns into a solid below 76 degrees and *may* clog plumbing pipes. Trust me <shudder> you don’t want to have to clean the pipes from your sink after spitting too much unrefined coconut oil down it. Spit in the trash instead.Quick Tip: when oil pulling with coconut oil... remember not to spit in the sink!Click To Tweet
A word of warning: Harvard Medical School found that 20% of Ayurvedic herbal medical products produced in South Asia contains potentially harmful levels of lead, mercury and/or arsenic. Please know your oil sources, and stick with “food grade” organic oils.
Can You Make Oil Pulling More Enjoyable?
Oil pulling can be enhanced by adding a drop of quality essential oil. I love alternating a few different oils, such as orange, clove, and lemon. It changes up the flavor and makes it much more enjoyable.
When you use essential oils in with the oil you’re using for oil pulling, not only do you receive the benefits of oil pulling, but you increase them with the benefits of essential oils too. I know there is a lot of controversy about ingesting essential oils, but that is mostly concerned with mucus membranes throughout the digestive tract and gut flora. Looking at some of the latest findings shows that essential oils are actually healthier for your teeth than juices because they don’t have the same acidic levels. I have noticed orange and lemon both significantly help with teeth whitening and brightening… we may need to make a challenge out of it…
I also found a way to make oil pulling easier by making “Oil Chews” to keep in the fridge. Just pop one in your mouth, let it melt, and swish away!
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