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Should You Try Oil Pulling?

We explore the ancient oral health technique to see if it's all it's cracked up to be.
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By Colleen Oakley
WebMD Magazine - Feature
Reviewed by Eric Yabu, DDS

Maybe you've seen something about it on the Internet, or a friend of a friend swears by it -- but you're not sure exactly what it is. Oil pulling is a growing trend, but it's not new.

"This oral therapy is a type of Ayurvedic medicine [a traditional Indian system] that dates back 3,000 years," says Jessica T. Emery, DMD, owner of Sugar Fix Dental Loft in Chicago. "It involves swishing approximately 1 tablespoon of oil -- typically coconut, sesame, or sunflower oil -- in your mouth for about 20 minutes and then spitting it out."

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Unlike some so-called natural home remedies, it's not a practice that's based on pseudo-science. Recent studies show that oil pulling helps against gingivitis, plaque, and microorganisms that cause bad breath. How? "Most microorganisms inhabiting the mouth consist of a single cell," Emery says. "Cells are covered with a lipid, or fatty, membrane, which is the cell's skin. When these cells come into contact with oil, a fat, they naturally adhere to each other."

Oil-Pulling Tips

Use coconut oil. While you can get the same bacteria-fighting benefits with sesame or sunflower oil, coconut oil has the added benefit of lauric acid, which is well-known for its anti-microbial agents, Emery says, making it more effective. Also, a recent study found that coconut oil may help prevent tooth decay.

Start with just 5 minutes a day. Twenty minutes of swishing is a long time, and while the longer you pull, the more bacteria you'll remove, 5 or 10 minutes will still offer some benefit. Also, if your jaw starts aching a few minutes in, slow down. "Don't work too hard," Emery says. "A gentle swishing, pushing, and sucking the oil through the teeth is all that's required."

Don't swallow. "If you find it hard not to, you likely have too much oil in your mouth," Emery says. "Spit it out and try again with a smaller amount." Also, don't spit it down the sink, as the oil could clog your pipes. Just discard the used oil into the nearest trash can.

Don't skip brushing and flossing. "Oil pulling should never replace routine dental visits and traditional home oral care," Emery says. "It doesn't reverse the effects of tooth decay, but it's a great supplemental therapy."

Expert Tip

"Coconut and sunflower oil aren't the only oils with dental health benefits. For irritated, inflamed gums, rub a little vitamin E oil directly on the surface. It's rich in antioxidants, easily absorbed, and helps regenerate healthy gum tissue." -- Jessica Emery, DMD

Reviewed on June 04, 2014

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Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

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American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

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