Among the many health fads and rumors going around the web, oil pulling is one that we dentists get asked about a lot. The question is, does oil pulling really prevent tooth decay?
Oil pulling is an ancient dental care technique that originated in India about 3,000 years ago. It involves swishing oil in your mouth for about 20 minutes then spitting it out. The rumor is that the oil pulls toxins out of the tissues of your mouth and whitens at the same time. Some people have claimed that it not only prevents but can also reverse tooth decay. Many advocates also mention secondary benefits for your overall health, including improvements to conditions such as diabetes and psoriasis.
In fact, several studies conducted on groups of young adults in India showed that oil pulling did reduce the number of tooth decay-causing bacteria present in plaque. However, some dentists and health professionals have suggested that swishing water in your mouth for 20 minutes would have a similar effect. In other words, there’s nothing special about using oil, in particular, it’s the rinsing action that helps reduce bacteria.
Many dental professionals agree that oil pulling could be a viable alternative to traditional mouthwashes and rinses, but not your normal dental care routine of brushing and flossing. In fact, in studies of the effectiveness of oil pulling on reducing harmful oral bacteria, the control groups were using traditional mouthwash. That means these studies only looked at how oil pulling works compared to regular mouthwash, not to compared to doing away with brushing and flossing.
Some oil pulling advocates claim that it can replace brushing and flossing completely, but dentists do not advise this. From a practical standpoint, the oil can’t clean between your teeth thoroughly like flossing or using a Waterpik. And while it can help prevent the buildup of plaque, it can’t remove it. Plaque can only be removed mechanically, with the abrasives in toothpaste paired with the motion of a toothbrush or a dental hygienist’s tools.
As to the claims that oil pulling can help a wide variety of non-dental health problems, such as asthma, migraines or skin disorders, this may be true, but not directly because of the oil pulling itself. Paying extra good attention to your oral health is bound to impact your general health; the two are closely connected. For example, gum disease has been linked to low birthweight in babies and heart disease and stroke. Tooth loss due to tooth decay often contributes to poor nutrition, which comes with a whole host of health consequences.
Those interested in oil pulling should know that it is only advisable for someone in good oral health. If you have gum disease or are at risk for it, oil pulling could make things worse. If you have questions about oil pulling or any other homeopathic oral care, please talk with us so we can advise you on whether these techniques are a good idea for your oral health situation.