As you may know, I have written about oral health and our diet previously, particularly with respect to how the food we eat facilitates beneficial or harmful bacteria in our mouth. At the time I wrote that post, I was happy to say that my dental health had only improved since changing to an ancestral approach to diet and lifestyle. While this is still true for the teeth that are currently all my own, I had unfortunately received some really shitty, and actually unnecessary, dental work right around the same time I changed my diet. This is where my story, and by story I mean interest in dental health and thus this post about oil pulling, begins.
Once upon a time (about 3 years ago), I visited a new dentist after moving to new city, Toronto. I had only had a 1 year gap from my last dentist visit in my old city of residence, Vancouver; where, by the way, I had maybe had 2 fillings completed in the 5 years I was there. But, low and behold, my new dentist decides that, based on her review of the radiographs, I have 13 cavities that need to be filling asap. I was shocked, and in retrospect, I really wish that I had followed my gut feelings and went for a second opinion. Alas, I decided to bite the bullet and just get em fixed up. So, 4 appointments later they were all filled. After my last appointment, I relocated back to Vancouver and resumed visits with my previous dentist. They took some radiographs at my first appointment back in the office and I also had the radiographs from the Toronto dentist for them to review as well. To my horror, the dentist advised that not only were the 13 fillings likely not even necessary to fill, they may not have been cavities in the first place! Furthermore, about half of the filling needed to be replaced as they were not sealed or trimmed properly. Basically, bacteria could leak under the filling and cause even more damage; so, guess what, I had to have those fillings replaced!
The last straw (ie. straw that broke the camels back LOL) was just before my recent 2 week vacation. I began to have a horrible toothache in one of the teeth filled by the Toronto dentist (one that was not fixed in Vancouver) and following an emergency dental appointment prior to leaving for vacation, I was told I needed a root canal. I was put on a 7 day course of antibiotics and sent off on my vacation, not only worried about losing my tooth, but also the damages that antibiotics can have on your gut. That, along with the pain, led to the first few days of my trip filled with pain and worry about my dying tooth. I mean I really loved that tooth! I wish it would come back. As you can tell, I am still in mourning over it’s death :-(.
So now, not only am I worried about keeping the teeth that are “all me” healthy, I now have to make sure that bad bacteria does not affect the “poorly” filled teeth that are also in there, and probably more susceptible than “my” teeth. Which brings me to my discovery of Oil Pulling.
Oil Pulling – What Is It?
I heard of Oil Pulling a few times over the past couple of years, but thought for some reason it was specific to acne treatment…I was wrong, and when I recently overheard someone speaking about it to a friend, I decided I would do some research. Obviously, this all came at a great time given the above dental issues I outlined.
Oil Pulling is actually very simple, you take a teaspoon or tablespoon of good quality paleo/primal vegetable oil (usually coconut or sesame) and swish it around in your mouth, pulling it between your teeth and over your gums for 10-20 minutes. Then you spit it out, rinse your mouth with water and go through your regular dental hygiene daily routine.
However, the interesting part is the reported benefits of this practice. Oil Pulling originated in the ancient yurvedic medicine system, and seems to be used more widely than I thought. Proponents of this practice say there are immediate and ongoing benefits for not only one’s oral health, but also their systemic health. This practice is said to detoxify your mouth, leading to less plaque, less bad breath, whiter teeth, stronger teeth, healthier gums, and the list goes on for oral health. However, the practice is also said to be beneficial for systemic conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, autoimmune conditions, and a vast array of other ailments. I will touch on the possible scientific basis of these reports shortly.
Oil Pulling – How Does It Work
The theory is that the oil “pulls” detrimental bacteria out from your gums and teeth, while at the same time, creating an environment in your mouth that prevents bacteria from sticking to your teeth gums, cheeks after you oil pull. Some say that it actually pulls toxins out of your blood, but I am quite certain that your gums and teeth do not allow the transport of molecules from blood to mouth, or vice versa, but who really knows. What seems to make the most sense is that:
The oil has antimicrobial properties (ie. it kills bacteria).
Saponification happens during the oil pulling process. Basically you make a type of soap in your mouth, and that process leads to greater cleansing of your mouth and teeth.
The viscosity of the oil and the environment created after the oil pulling process creates an environment that limits bacterial and plaque adhesion to the surfaces in your mouth.
There apparently has been no final consensus on oil pulling’s mechanism(s) of action and the above listed mechanisms are simply theories at this time. However, there is some scientific evidence regarding the saponification theory (1)
Oil Pulling – Resources
Here are a few other blogs I was able to gather some useful information from:
Oil Pulling – What About the Science Man!
Unfortunately, there isn’t a huge amount of peer reviewed scientific literature out there. Most of the information available is from testimonials and reports of personal experience, which I am by no means disregarding since this type of support can be very useful; however, it is nice to have some scientific support also. Regardless, for most things these days I just like to have a look see for what the scientific evidence says.
The only scientific studies out there in peer reviewed journals focus solely on the oral health claims of oil pulling. There are no studies looking at the claimed systemic benefits of oil pulling, so we will have to fully rely on oral hygiene studies to justify our use of oil pulling, and any systemic benefits that may occur will just have to be classified as an added bonus.
I was able to locate 4 useful, peer reviewed studies on oil pulling and oral health. We must also note that all of these studies were done using sesame oil; however, given the antimicrobial properties of coconut oil, I see no reason why it would not work just as well, and taste better at the same time. Overall, the listed studies found that oil pulling reduced harmful bacteria that lead to things like cavities, gingivitis, plaque, and bad breath (2, 3, 4). Some of the below studies not only measured for the signs and symptoms of these conditions, they also measured the bacteria themselves in order to confirm that oil pulling actually works on said bacteria and doesn’t simply mask symptoms.
I have been trying oil pulling for the past 5 days and have noticed a definite reduction in plaque accumulation…I mean man my teeth are smooth! On the bad breath side of things, I haven’t had anyone make a comment to me on this specifically but after a full day of work, I have noticed a slight reduction in overall clean mouth feeling, and I don’t have as much of an urge to do a quick brush or mouthwash rinse when I get home. So, I think I will continue oil pulling for the next month, leading up to my next dentist check up, and see what the results are.
The Barefoot Golfer