What Is Oil Pulling? What You Need to Know

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It's human nature to look for a quick fix or the next big thing in home care. Nonetheless, the best ways to accomplish a personal goal are the time-tested practices that, in oral health, are literally right under your nose. Oil pulling is one method of whitening teeth and enhancing one's mouth health, but it's not necessarily the best solution.

First of all, what is oil pulling?

Swishing with Oil

Oil pulling, as explained by the American Dental Association (ADA), involves swishing a tablespoon of edible oil (coconut, olive, sesame or the like) throughout the mouth for usually one to five minutes, but for up to as long as 20 minutes depending on the case. The method has supposedly been practiced for centuries in southern Asia and India.

Has It Worked?

One study reported by CNN suggests 20 adolescent boys who incorporated sesame oil pulling showed a reduction in plaque and streptococcus mutans, which is the bacteria believed to cause tooth decay. In 2013, a larger study that also used sesame oil concluded that oil pulling significantly lowered levels of gingivitis and plaque, respectively. Using coconut oil instead of sesame is also believed to fend off bacteria, viruses and yeasts due to the lauric acid in the oil.

Why to Avoid Oil Pulling

More important than any basic benefit, as highlighted by CNN, are the negative side-effects of oil pulling – most of which stem from the technique. They include excessive thirst, dry mouth, loss in sensation and taste, muscular stiffness and even exhaustion. Against this backdrop, very few oil-pulling professionals currently reside in the U.S. The ADA ultimately doesn't recommend oil pulling as a viable measure to whiten teeth because there has been so little research to provide scientific data that says it is preferable over more traditional mouthwashes, like the fluoridated Colgate® Total® Lasting White, whitening mouthwash. So you may end up hindering your mouth's health in the long run.

Proper Oral Care Routine

Unfortunately, there's no magic pill, medicine or dietary gimmick designed to make your teeth that perfect shade of white. What's been proven to work over time is developing and maintaining a proper oral care routine. While brushing and flossing provide the foundation for such a routine, the steps to maintaining it are rather simple:

  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet.
  • Use a fluoride-based toothpaste.
  • Use a fluoride-based mouthwash.
  • Make sure your kids drink fluoridated water.

Most importantly, floss every day and brush in the morning and evening.

You only get one set of permanent teeth, so taking care of them is paramount. Instead of thinking too far outside the box, wondering "what is oil pulling" as it relates to you, stick to what works. That includes using the right products, and making sure you consult your dentist with any oral concerns at your regular checkup.

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