While dentistry continues to advance in terms of research and treatments available for conditions such as gum disease, every so often people become wildly interested in ancient, unfounded solutions.
The most recent of these is the practice of oil pulling. You might have seen news stories about the practice on your local television news or on websites such as WebMD.
Oil pulling dates back to ancient India, where it was used by practitioners of Ayurveda to clean the mouth. It involves placing a large spoonful of oil, usually coconut or sesame oil, in the mouth, then swishing the oil back and forth over the teeth and gums for about 20 minutes.
But, as with many fad medical trends, the claims behind oil pulling seem to be too good to be true. You can try the technique all you want, but don’t expect it to replace your toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste or mean you no longer need to see the dentist.
The History of Oil Pulling
Oil pulling as a practice is described in the Charaka Samhita, one of the ancient Ayurvedic texts. Like other ancient practices from India that have become popular in the West, oil pulling is thought to be about 3,000 years old.
Ayurvedic texts link it to resolving or curing 25 different medical problems. In the mouth, it’s supposed to put an end to bad breath, tooth decay and gum disease. Systemically, it’s supposed to cure headaches, arthritis and bronchitis.
When a person swishes the oil back and forth in his or her mouth, it’s believed that the oil pulls out and absorbs a host of “toxins,” such as the bacteria in the tongue and particles trapped between the teeth. People who believe in oil pulling claim that toxins and bacteria are fat soluble. Once they are absorbed by the oil, they begin to break down and dissolve.
While oil pulling hasn’t been studied in the West, and the American Dental Association has yet to release a statement on the practice, saying that it needs more research, a number of studies have been performed in India. These studies examined the role oil pulling played in reducing the amount of bacteria in a person’s mouth.
Many of the studies, such as one published in 2008 in the India Journal of Pedodontics and Preventative Dentistry, were small. The 2008 study had just 20 subjects. Ten of the subjects tried oil pulling while the other 10 used an antibacterial mouthwash.
The researchers gathered saliva samples for each subject after 24 hours, 48 hours, one week and two weeks and evaluated them for the presence of Streptococcus mutans, a type of bacteria. All subjects had a reduction in the level of bacteria in their mouths, whether they used oil or mouthwash.
Although the study suggests that oil pulling lowers the level of bacteria in the mouth, it doesn’t suggest that oil pulling is the magical cure many in the West are making it out to be.
To Try or Not to Try?
You might still be wondering if oil pulling is worth the effort. While you are free to try it, keep in mind that it is not a substitute for a strong oral care routine and regular visits to your dentist.
An article in Registered Dental Hygienist noted that several patients came into to see their dentist after switching to oil pulling from a habit of brushing their teeth.
The hygienist noted that the patients’ teeth were shiny and looked clean. But, once she examined their gums closely, she found that they had greater pockets, that the gums bled when touched and were sensitive to hand and ultrasonic instruments.
Don’t leave regular dental care or follow-up visits with your periodontist in the dust after trying oil pulling. If it’s been a while since you’ve seen a dental professional, make an appointment today.
The periodontists at Gallardo & Lamas in Miami are able to discuss treatment options with you and to help you weigh the pros and cons of unconventional dental treatments. Call the office at 305-447-1447 for an appointment today.