Oil pulling: something for strong teeth, or just humbug?


The effect of oil pulling has been subject to little research. But there are many experience reports clai­ming that it has a positive effect on oral hygiene. Teeth, tongue coating and oral flora are all said to benefit from the millennia-old Ayurvedic practice.

What is oil pulling?

Oil pulling is the process of cleaning the teeth and interdental spaces with a high-quality, antibacterial oil. It's done by putting a tablespoon of oil into the mouth and pulling and pressing the oil around the mouth cavity for a few minutes. It’s basically like a long mouth rinse (20 minutes is recommended) on a natural basis. But avoid gargling: this could cause the bacteria to be swallowed.

Effect and limitations of oil pulling

There are a few smaller studies, mostly from India, on the effect of oil pulling on oral health. These suggest that the oil has an antiseptic and antibacterial effect in the mouth. Oil pulling also reduces dental plaque, thereby diminishing the breeding ground for caries. Because of its consistency, it gets into places that toothbrushes and toothpaste are unable to reach. A pleasant side-effect is its role in remedying bad breath and tongue coating as well as stimulating appetite and digestion. Whether and how oil pulling helps with gum inflammation has not yet been sufficiently researched.

Oil pulling is an ancient household remedy from Ayurvedic teachings. It is said to strengthen the teeth and oral flora, detoxify the body and prevent diseases.

Other health benefits of oil pulling

Advocates of this form of oral health claim that oil pulling has other beneficial effects. By detoxifying the mouth cavity, it is deemed to help with acne, headaches, migraines, arthritis, diabetes, asthma and cardiovascular diseases. However, this is not scientifically proven.

By the way: oil pulling doesn't replace teeth cleaning. Even though the Ayurvedic household remedy helps to strengthen teeth and prevent caries, it must only be used as a supplement to daily oral hygiene. And oil pulling doesn't make teeth whiter – but is reputed to stop discolouration.

When should oil pulling be carried out?

Oil pulling is done on an empty stomach immediately after getting up, as it can then fight the bacteria that have accu­mu­lat­ed in the mouth overnight. If you've already drunk a glass of water or even had breakfast at this time, some of it will already be in your stomach. It is best done daily, but can also be practised as a course of treatment, for example for 2 weeks.

What is the exact method for oil pulling?

  1. Clean the tongue with a tongue cleaner or a stainless steel spoon.
  2. Put a tablespoon of oil in the mouth (beginners can start with less).
  3. Swish the oil around the mouth so that it gets into every nook and cranny and can develop its full effect. Avoid extreme pulling movements as this could trigger cramps. Pause now and again and simply keep the oil in the mouth.
  4. After 15-20 minutes, spit it out into a paper towel (not in the basin, for ecological reasons) and dispose of it in the waste. Beginners can start with shorter times.
  5. Rinse the mouth several times with warm water until there is no more oil in the mouth.
  6. Clean your teeth.

Coconut oil, sesame oil or olive oil?

Several native oils – like coconut, olive, sesame or sunflower – can be used for oil pulling. Coconut oil is good for fighting viruses, fungi and bacteria and has an anti-inflammatory effect while sesame oil is reported to be good at combating plaque. Choose the oil de­pend­ing on which effects are important to you, or which oil you already have at home. It’s advisable to buy organic quality to ensure that the oil does indeed contain the required ingredients.

Good to know: specialist shops and online retailers sell mouth oils specially designed for oil pulling, with an optimal combination of health-promoting ingredients. However, conventional household oils are also effective.

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