How to Improve Dental Health with Oil Pulling

Are you looking for a natural way to improve the health of your teeth and gums? Then oil pulling with coconut oil may be for you. Oil pulling is a simple process of swishing an edible oil in the mouth to remove harmful bacteria. It may sound gross at first and perhaps even a little hokey, but oil pulling has been shown to offer many dental health benefits, including whiter teeth, healthier gums, and fresher breath.

Image by Meal Makeover Moms

The History of Oil Pulling

Oil pulling therapy isn't a new concept. It is an ancient traditional folk remedy that has been practiced for centuries as a holistic Ayurvedic technique in India and southern Asia. The process involves swishing or "pulling" a tablespoon of an edible oil such as coconut oil or sesame oil in the mouth and between the teeth for anywhere from one to 20 minutes or longer.

The idea behind this practice is that it "pulls" toxins, bacteria, and infections from the mouth. Such oral debris can cause major dental health issues, including gum disease, halitosis, plaque buildup, and tooth decay, and can even lead to major general health issues, including heart disease and life-threatening pneumonia. 

While oil pulling is not recommended by the American Dental Association as a supplementary oral hygiene practice due to lack of scientific evidence, it has certainly gained popularity in recent years as a natural solution for improving not just dental health but overall health as well.

The lack of scientific proof or approval by the ADA, however, hasn't stopped those individuals in search of natural methods to a healthier mouth. As reported by the Indian Journal of Dental Research, "oil pulling has been used extensively as a traditional Indian folk remedy without scientific proof for many years for strengthening teeth, gums and jaws and to prevent decay, oral malodor, bleeding gums and dryness of throat and cracked lips."

What Dangers Lurk Inside the Mouth?

Did you know that more than 80 million people experience chronic halitosis, also known as bad breath? The bad odor typically originates from the gums and tongue, and is generally caused by wastes of bacteria in the mouth, the decay of food particles, and poor dental hygiene. 

The mouth contains millions of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other toxins that can enter our bloodstream and wear down the body and the immune system, leading to disease and illness. In addition to entering our bloodstream, this bacteria creates a sticky colorless film called plaque on the teeth that, if left to thrive, can lead to dental health issues such as bad breath, yellow teeth, cavities, tooth decay, gingivitis, and periodontal disease. 

We send harmful bacteria down to our stomach and digestive system every time we swallow, whether it is when we drink a beverage, chew gum, or eat food.

Saliva is a key ingredient for washing away bacteria and food particles. It's also important because it contains enzymes and antibodies that can attack the bacteria of plaque, it neutralizes acids in decay-causing bacteria, and it contains minerals including calcium, phosphate, and fluoride that replace lost minerals from tooth surfaces.

Factors that compromise the production of saliva contribute to tooth decay and other dental issues. When the salivary glands slow down the production of saliva, particularly during sleep, bacteria is allowed to grow. That is how "morning breath" occurs. A dry mouth creates an environment where bacteria can thrive. Dry mouth doesn't just occur naturally; it is a side effect to many medications, including antihistamines and decongestants, antihypertensive medications, and medications prescribed for depression. Radiation therapy for cancers of the head and neck compromises the salivary gland tissue, resulting in dry mouth and subsequent tooth decay.

One of the main bacteria found in the mouth is Streptococcus Mutans. It is a major contributor to plaque buildup and tooth decay. And when the immune system starts attacking the bacteria in the mouth, the gums become inflamed and periodontal disease can start to occur.

By removing this harmful debris through oil pulling, we not only free up the immune system, giving it a better fighting chance to keep the body healthy by dealing with other infectious threats that may come along, but we also create a healthier environment for our teeth and gums that works to prevent dental issues. Not surprisingly, removing the bacteria also reduces stress and internal inflammation, both of which can affect our dental health. 

The other issue with dental health is that the bacteria gets buried in our gum pockets. This bacteria wreaks havoc on our bodies, sending poison into our bloodstream 24/7. Unfortunately, brushing, flossing, and rinsing with a mouthwash that even contains antibacterial agents won't do the trick of removing the bacteria from the dental pockets. Neither will applying a healing gel to the gums. Using a water flossing device that applies a steady stream of water under pressure to the gums offers a fair chance of getting the bacteria removed from those hard-to-reach pockets. Interestingly enough, oil pulling seems to live up to that challenge as well and may even be more effective.

How Does Oil Pulling Work?

There are a number of reasons that oil pulling is an effective natural method to reduce or eliminate the gross, harmful bacteria in the mouth.

Most oils have antibacterial properties, and studies have shown that some oils, such as sesame oil, have anti-inflammatory properties as well. Coconut oil contains a fatty acid called lauric acid that is proven to be antimicrobial which means it can kill bacteria, fungi, and viruses.

As the oil is swished in the mouth, the bacteria sticks to the oil and is removed when you spit it out. When given enough time, the oil is also able to seep into the deep gum pockets, reaching the harmful bacteria that thrive there and allowing the antibacterial agent in the oil to do its work to kill and remove the bacteria. 

The key to oil pulling is allowing enough time for the bacteria to be drawn out by the oil. There are different schools of thought on the duration needed in order for oil pulling to be effective. Some say five minutes is enough time, but others say it takes 20 minutes for the oil to seep into the gum pockets and reach the hidden bacteria. If you don't swish long enough, the process won't work, but if you swish too long, you run the risk of reabsorbing the harmful bacteria and toxins into your body. 

How to Use Oil Pulling

Oil pulling is an easy technique that can be done in the shower, during meditation, or any other activity that does not require verbal communication. 

When you wake up, and before eating or drinking anything, add a tablespoon of an edible oil such as coconut oil to your mouth. Swish it around your mouth for your desired duration, being careful not to accidentally swallow any of the oil. Once your time is up, spit out the oil in the garbage, rinse your mouth thoroughly, and then brush your teeth. 

For this process to be effective, you want to swish the oil until it becomes a thin, white, milky consistency. Try to swish back and forth between your teeth and side to side to reach your cheeks and soft palate, massaging the oil into your gums and all the nooks and crannies. Gargling the oil is not recommended as you run the risk of swallowing the oil and ingesting the bacteria that you are trying to remove. 

Are There Any General Health Benefits to Oil Pulling?

The simple process of removing the bacteria in the mouth has a ripple effect on the rest of the body. Harmful bacteria in the mouth gets absorbed into the bloodstream 24/7. It also gets sent to the stomach and the digestive system every time we swallow, whether or not we're eating food or drinking a beverage. 

Additionally, any bacterial infection in the mouth can spread easily to the rest of the body, resulting in a never-ending, low-grade infection throughout the body. Not to mention, the harmful bacteria from an infected mouth can lodge itself inside blood vessels, ultimately causing dangerous blockages that can lead to heart attacks and strokes.

By reducing the amount of bacteria that gets absorbed or ingested, it stands to reason that we're giving our bodies a better chance for healthy living. This process reduces the amount of bacteria that travels from our mouth to other parts of the body, and can promote a stronger immune system, allowing it to focus on keeping the body strong rather than combatting the preventable absorption or ingestion of harmful bacteria.

Many people use coconut oil because of its antibacterial and anti-viral properties that work to reduce or eliminate harmful bacteria and microbes. While the oil sits in your mouth, it is getting absorbed into your bloodstream through the tissues in the mouth.

Tips & Tricks for Oil Pulling

  • It may seem gross at first and take a few times to get used to the idea of swishing oil in your mouth, so you may need a little extra motivation to stick with the process (remember all of the benefits we talked about).
  • It's entirely acceptable to start small, especially when you are new to the process. As you continue to stick with oil pulling, increase your time and amount of oil (up to 1 tablespoon).
  • Resist the urge to swallow the oil. Swallowing the oil will cause you to ingest the harmful bacteria you are trying to remove. If you need to, spit out the oil and try it again with a new batch.
  • If your jaw becomes sore from swishing the oil in your mouth, relax your mouth. Scale back on the vigorous swishing.
  • It is helpful to set a timer for your desired duration and then find an activity that will keep you occupied. This will help make the time go by faster and keep you from counting down the seconds.

Is Oil Pulling For Me?

As with any health technique, it is important to discuss oil pulling with your dentist or physician to see if it is right for you and your family.

There are some lofty claims about the health benefits of oil pulling. While some sources say this technique can cure many diseases not just within the mouth but also within the rest of the body, other sources, particularly dentists, claim this technique has some negative side effects such as lipoid pneumonia if it goes down the wrong tube.

It's worth noting that in our research on this topic, we discovered many dentists who have concluded that oil pulling does in fact provide some benefit and may even be a better, healthier alternative to household mouthwash brands as oil pulling protects the good bacteria in the mouth and body. 

While the benefits of oil pulling may be vast, the technique is by no means an adequate replacement for brushing and flossing. It should still be combined with good oral hygiene habits, such as teeth brushing, flossing, and regular dental cleanings, to achieve maximum benefits. 

We'd love to hear about your experiences with oil pulling. Weigh in by posting a comment below.

Resources:

  1. http://www.knowyourteeth.com/infobites/abc/article/?abc=H&iid=306&aid=1254 
  2. https://www.carefreedental.com/procedures/cleaning 
  3. http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-10517/why-im-in-love-with-oil-pulling-and-why-you-should-be-too.html
  4. http://www.yogamag.net/archives/1992/fnov92/dental.shtml
  5. http://foodmatters.tv/articles-1/the-7-health-benefits-of-oil-pulling
  6. http://jonbarron.org/article/oil-pulling-detoxing#.VrAtdtIrJH1 
  7. http://www.medschool.lsuhsc.edu/genetics_center/louisiana/article_oralcavity1.htm
  8. http://askthedentist.com/oil-pulling/

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