A trending beauty topic that has been circling around the office and internet is oil pulling.
Oil pulling or oil swishing is a traditional folk remedy where oil is swished or held in the mouth. Ayurvedic literature states oil pulling is capable of improving oral and systemic health, including a benefit in conditions such as headaches, migraines, diabetes mellitus, asthma, and acne, as well as whitening teeth. Promoters claim it works by “pulling out” “toxins”, and thereby reducing inflammation.
According to an article in The Washington Post, “It’s (oil pulling) been touted as everything from a natural teeth whitener to a cure for acne. Thousands of videos on YouTube espouse the benefits of oil pulling — an Ayurvedic technique that involves swishing an oil in your mouth, much like mouthwash, and spitting it out.
There don’t seem to be any good medical studies on pulling but that hasn’t reduced interest in the technique. For Francheska Medina, a natural-living blogger based in New York, the benefits of oil pulling go beyond oral health. In December, Medina posted an oil pulling video to her YouTube channel, HeyFranHey, which recently hit 100,000 subscribers. In the video, Medina rattles off a list of ailments — migraines, allergies, sinus pressure, cavities and more — before explaining the method, which she calls “an awesome way to jump start your body.”
In a phone interview, Medina said she began pulling oil six years ago after she experienced a series of kidney-related health issues. She does not have a medical background, but began studying nutrition and natural remedies when she found treatments her doctors suggested to be ineffective or too expensive. She still does it first thing every morning.
“I started doing [oil pulling] and within the first two weeks, I could feel my body getting stronger,” said Medina, who also incorporated juicing and detox teas into her health regimen. “I knew that it was definitely going to be something that could help me heal myself.”
If you search for “oil pulling,” on the American Dental Association’s Web site, you won’t find much. As The Atlantic notes, the organization addresses alternative methods in a much more general way, with a policy statement on “unconventional dentistry.”
Sally J. Cram, a D.C.-based periodontist and a consumer adviser for the ADA, said she hasn’t seen any studies on oil pulling during her 28 years in dentistry. Oil pulling is often cited as a natural breath freshener, and while Cram says the fragrance of certain oils may help, “there’s nothing in those oils that is anti-bacterial.”
Kasia Kines, a licensed nutritionist whose Baltimore-based practice is built around holistic nutrition says she often recommends oil pulling to clients as part of her 30- day detox program, which includes a focus on plant-based whole foods, such as whole grains, vegetables and seeds. She doesn’t do it herself, however, because her plant-based diet keeps her healthy, she said.
Kines, a native of Poland, said her mother taught her the technique using sunflower oil. Because the oil is relatively inexpensive, Kines says, “it’s very, very practical,” though she admits it’s not for everyone.
Those who recommend the technique usually suggest swishing the oil for 10-15 minutes. “For many Americans, it’s not very palatable,” Kines said.
An article from The Atlantic states, “A Google search for “oil pulling” brings up more than two million results, many from the past few weeks. This late February post on the blog Fashionlush, received around 800 comments. The main claims being bandied about are that the practice cleans and whitens your teeth, helps with bad breath, and eases jaw pain. More dubious are the assertions that it cures diabetes, hangovers, acne, and all manner of other bodily ills. (A good rule to live by, I think, is not to trust anything that claims to get rid of “toxins,” especially if it does not specify what these toxins are. “We have these magic organs called kidneys and livers and [detoxifying] is what they do,” Collins says. “We don’t necessarily need to be swishing things around in our mouth.”)
There have been a handful of studies on the practice (published in Indian journals, it’s worth noting) that found it to be equally or nearly as effective as mouthwash in reducing halitosis, plaque-induced gingivitis, and the presence of streptococcus mutans, a bacteria that contributes to tooth decay. But these studies had very small sample sizes—20 people total—which makes them, Collins says, “one step away from case studies.”
When I contacted the American Dental Association, I was told it could not comment on the practice “because additional research is needed.” The organization pointed me to its statement on “unconventional dentistry,” which reads in part:
The ADA… supports those diagnostic and treatment approaches that allow both patient and dentist to make informed choices among safe and effective options. The provision of dental care should be based on sound scientific principles and demonstrated clinical safety and effectiveness. Oil pulling is far from a sound scientific principle. Collins says that, in his opinion, there’s no harm in it (though if you swallow it, he posits you might have some gastrointestinal issues), but neither is there any solid evidence of benefits.
“From a public health point of view, we certainly do not want to encourage people to use things that, while they may be harmless, we have no evidence that they work,” Collins says. “It’s kind of like chiropractic. If somebody feels that they can go to the chiropractor, get a back adjustment, and it makes them feel better, I’m okay with that. If people start selling chiropractic as a mechanism to cure cancer then I have a problem with that.”
Basically, if you feel that swishing oil between your teeth for 20 minutes a day is a good use of your time, it probably can’t hurt you. But don’t use it as an alternative to brushing your teeth, and certainly don’t expect it to cure any real conditions. No matter what the movie stars say.”
Our honest perspective? Oil pulling has received little study and there is little evidence to support claims made by the technique’s advocates. We welcome your updates, testimonials, and feedback here!