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Oil pulling… have you tried it yet? Oil pulling is the ancient, time-tested practice of swishing herbalized sesame and coconut oil in the mouth for 10-15 minutes daily. This is best performed after tongue scraping, brushing and flossing, and can be done while showering.
This ancient technique discussed in the Ayurvedic text Charaka Samhita has been getting lots of press lately for its teeth-whitening and bad breath-banishing benefits. In this article, I would like to share with you the science behind this popular topic.
Named for the cleansing effect oils have when applied to the skin, this process uses lipophilic oils, meaning they attract other oils and fat soluble toxins, and act to pull them out from any surface an oil is introduced to. This amazing property to chelate or pull toxins has been employed for centuries during classical Ayurvedic detox therapies (1), such as oleation – used in all of our cleanse programs here at LifeSpa.
Your New Mouthwash
The mouth is loaded with microbes – some good and some not-so-good. Most mouthwashes in the conventional market are alcohol-based. Alcohol-based mouthwash essentially wipes out both the good and the bad bacteria.
In a healthy mouth, certain microbes play a critical role in upper respiratory health, breath smell, healthy gums and teeth and the first immune response for the entire body. Streptococcus salivarius is one of the most important and most abundant of good microbes found in a healthy mouth. (2,3,4,5)
Microbes, such as Streptococcus mutans (the main contributor to tooth decay) and the harmful yeast Candida albicans, seem to flourish in the mouth – particularly in the presence of sugars and starches. These bad bacterium and fungi, when allowed to flourish, can cause a plethora of health concerns specifically in the heart, arteries and brain.
Oil pulling has been shown to create a saponification or detergent effect that deters bad bacteria and plaque, while supporting healthy gum tissue as a barrier against bacterial exposure to the bloodstream. (6,7,8,9)
A Study: Traditional Mouthwash vs. Oil Mouthwash
In a randomized triple-blind study measuring the effects of oil pulling on oral health, 20 boys were divided into two groups:
- One group gargled daily for 10 minutes with a traditional mouthwash (chlorhexidine, considered the most effective anti-plaque and anti-gingivitis agent).
- The other group gargled daily for 10 minutes with sesame oil.
Numerous studies citing similar results support Ayurvedic statements made more than 3000 years ago, (10) which suggests that the effects of oil pulling and its role as a natural cleansing agent for the teeth and gums are all very real.
“Can’t I Just Brush With Coconut Oil?”
You may have also seen articles out there raving about brushing your teeth with coconut oil. While brushing with coconut oil will be beneficial, as it contains numerous antimicrobial properties, you may be missing out on some coconut’s most potent health benefits.
Dr. Damien Brady at the Bioscience Research Institute in Ireland conducted a study comparing raw coconut oil with a naturally enzyme-modified coconut oil – modified to mimic the natural effect of the digestive process that starts in the mouth. They found that the partially-digested coconut oil was more effective than raw coconut oil at impacting levels of potentially harmful bacteria in the mouth, including Streptococcus mutans. (11)
Oil pulling allows time for the digestive enzymes in the mouth to break down the oil and fully activate it. This may explain why simply brushing the teeth with coconut oil was not a common Ayurvedic practice, and swishing with a blend of coconut and sesame oils for 10-20 minutes was, and still is.
Oil Pulling and Bad Breath
By supporting healthy microbial populations that limit the proliferation of sulfur-producing bacteria you can get to the source of the bad breath. This is another example of how the proper balance of microbes can solve an age-old problem very simply.
Oral Health and Longevity
According to a study investigating cognitive decline at the UCLA Buck Institute, good oral hygiene is one of the top 10 keys to longevity. (14) Neglected oral health has been linked to poor cognitive function, and risk of heart and artery health concerns. (15)
How Do You Do It?
Uncooked sesame oil, coconut oil and turmeric are traditionally combined for the most reliable benefits. Take about 1 tablespoon of this oil mixture and swish or gargle in the mouth for about 10 minutes a day. It is perhaps best to do this in the shower while you are washing your hair… or humming your favorite tune! Give it a try!