Oil pulling – is the new trend for an ancient practice good for our oral health?


The recent trend for the ancient practice of oil pulling has been splashed around the media here, there and everywhere but what is it – and does it actually work?

Oil pulling is the Asian-Ayurvedic practice of swishing a tablespoon of (usually) coconut or sesame oil in the mouth and on an empty stomach for around 20 minutes.

This mechanical action supposedly draws out toxins in the body, primarily to improve oral health but also to improve your overall health.

The antimicrobial properties of coconut oil is seen as a benefit and experts claim it’s safe and there is no downside – but just how effective is it? And does doing this achieve any more than a toothbrush or floss?

Melonie Prebble is a dental therapist and Comparethetreatment’s oral health expert.

She says: ‘We are yet to see the clinical evidence proving this theory. We see lots of clinical evidence that demonstrates effective plaque removal is mechanical.  But, without any hard evidence it’s hard to know if this is true.

‘I have met patients who use this technique alongside mechanical plaque removal and it gives them a reassuring sense of wellbeing. But key here is that they are not using it instead of the tried and tested dental aids available.

‘Does it remove plaque-forming bacteria? I’ve no idea! The technique suggests that the oil pulls toxins from the body, but plaque bacteria and biofilm is complex and extremely tenacious. Currently, scientific evidence still supports the most popular method of mechanical disruption.’

She explains: ‘Removing plaque is quite difficult, even with the most advanced set of tools, and I would like to think we might have cottoned on to oil pulling a lot earlier if it’s useful.’

So, does it whiten teeth as some people suggest?

Melonie says: ‘No. Teeth whitening can be achieved with professional stain and plaque removal or dental bleaching.  There is a suggestion that lauric acid (found in coconut oil) reduces the bacteria, which are yellowish…’

So is toothbrushing and interdental cleaning the better option?

‘Without evidence to support oil pulling, the answer is 100% yes. We know that removing and disrupting plaque mechanically is our professional chosen method and we have millions of patients who prove this, along with clinical trials.

‘Personally, I don't have a spare 20 minutes to suck oil through my teeth. Encouraging a person to spend two minutes with a brush can be a challenge! Without a doubt, an electric toothbrush and some kind of interdental aid is the easiest. It does take a little effort and dedication but the health benefits are huge!’

But does it perhaps motivate some people to clean teeth?

She says: ‘I personally would not dissuade anybody from doing something that they feel is right for them and I have not seen any evidence to suggest it’s harmful so absolutely yes – this can motivate an individual towards improve oral health.

‘Cleaning in between teeth is as important as brushing. Teeth have five sides and those tricky in between areas require equal attention.  This is the area where most gum issues begin.’

‘Without a doubt the best investment we can make is in prevention. Prevent dental disease with regular visits to the dentist and hygienist, enjoy a healthy diet and invest time in good oral hygiene practice – all this will reduce dental costs to you, too.

‘Oil pulling is not only financially relevant but also time relevant. Investing in an electric toothbrush and widely available interdental brushes may cost in the short term, but the long-term gain is huge.

‘TePe Easy Picks are easy to use– I use them myself! They are great for removing food and complement the interdental brush. They are great for tight spaces in young mouths and adults.’
Ask our Expert Melonie Prebble a question

This article was updated on the 24th January 2020.

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