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Believe it or not, before toothbrushes were invented, teeth brushing was still a thing! Frayed twigs were used to scrub or brush and clean the teeth. In India, neem twigs were mostly used, followed by a 10-20 minute swish with coconut and sesame oil that would finish the job.
Dr. Damien Brady’s research at the Bioscience Research Institute in Ireland has shown that there are numerous antimicrobial properties in coconut oil that may make it the most logical of toothpastes.
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 fungus, when allowed to flourish, can cause a plethora of health concerns.
Partially-Digested Coconut Oil vs. Raw Coconut Oil
Dr. Brady compared raw coconut oil with a naturally enzyme-modified coconut oil, which is 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 reducing a variety of mouth bacteria, including Streptococcus mutans. (1)
This may explain why simply brushing the teeth with coconut oil was not a common Ayurvedic practice. According to Ayurveda, after cleaning the teeth, it was (and still is) recommended to swish with a blend of coconut and sesame oils for 10-20 minutes. This practice, called “oil pulling,” would allow the coconut oil the time it needed to be pre-digested or enzyme-modified – which is exactly what Dr. Brady found more effective against bad bacterium in his study.
While brushing with coconut oil is a good idea, Dr. Brady’s research suggests that oil pulling will pre-digest and activate the coconut oil. This is just another example of how ancient wisdom is being proved by modern science.
Oil Pulling Benefits
There are a handful of studies on oil pulling for 10-20 minutes a day that suggest plaque reduction, decreased Streptococcus mutans populations, better teeth cleansing, healthy gum tissue and better oral hygiene. (2,3,4)
So, while brushing with coconut oil will be beneficial, it takes some time for the digestive enzymes in the mouth to break down the oil and release the coconut’s most potent health benefits – making oil pulling a more effective strategy!