To Pull or Not to Pull…
by Jimmy Kilimitzoglou, DDS, FACD, FPFA, DABOI, MAGD, FAAID, FICOI

We all get intrigued anytime we hear of a natural way to promote health. I am sure that many of you have heard of oil pulling for optimal gum health and oral hygiene. What exactly is oil pulling? How do you do it properly? How effective is it?

Oil pulling is nothing new. It is a traditional ayurvedic remedy originally practiced in ancient India to maintain oral health by swirling oils in the oral cavity. It consists of a measured volume of oil (about a tablespoon) that is taken in the mouth and swished around for a period of time before spitting it out. The recommended time of holding this liquid in the mouth is 15 minutes. I don’t know about you, but that is an awfully long time to keep a liquid in the mouth.

Some oils used are sesame, sunflower and coconut oil, the latter being the most popular. Oil pulling is believed to have systemic and oral health benefits. The oral benefits are improved gum health, reduced inflammation and bleeding, relief from dry mouth & lips, whiter teeth and reduction of bad breath.

How does it work? The exact mechanism of action is unclear. There are a few theories. One being the saponification or “soap making” process resulting as alkali hydrolysis of fat. Another theory is that it may inhibit plaque formation and adhesion of bacteria due to the viscous nature of the oil. Lastly, it may be the presence of antioxidants in the oil which may prevent lipid peroxidation, leading to destruction of microorganisms. Coconut oil is comprised largely of lauric acid, which is known for antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.

There have been limited studies that compare oil pulling to mouthwash. Some studies show that the effects on plaque reduction and improvement of gingivitis are comparable. Other studies conclude that oil pulling may have a beneficial effect on reducing salivary bacterial counts compared to mouthwash. One thing that all the studies had in common is that they were short term, and the results were not profound.

Some key takeaways: There are not enough studies, and the findings are inconclusive. Oil pulling is usually an adjunctive therapy to current oral hygiene. Studies do not show improvement in periodontal disease or cavities, just gingivitis.

The main question is: is it even worth doing oil pulling for at least 15 minutes, given the small benefit? Would it be better to simply focus on really good oral hygiene alone? Think about it. How long does it take to floss the whole mouth, every tooth, every nook and cranny. How long does effective tooth brushing take? Let’s say 2 minutes for flossing and 2 minutes of brushing. That is just 4 minutes total.

I think I would rather you have 4 minutes of excellent oral hygiene, rather than just one minute of ineffective oral hygiene and 15 minutes of oil pulling. Said differently, oil pulling will not harm you. It may give you sore mouth muscles but there are no drawbacks — it’s just that the benefits are not so compelling. One thing is for sure, you certainly wouldn’t want to do oil pulling instead of brushing and flossing.


ESI Healthy Dentistry
42 Terry Road, Smithtown, NY 11787
Tel (631) 979 7991 / Fax (631) 979 7992



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