Oil Pulling, Periodontal Disease and Cavities

Oil Pulling is the process of forcefully swishing oil between the teeth. It is a practice that is common in India as a type of folk medicine. It has been written about in the Ayurvedic text Charak Samhita2 which is an ancient text about internal medicine. Oil pulling is discussed in this text as a cure to many diseases. It was popularized in the 1990′s by a Russian Doctor who recommended the use of natural edible oils to prevent disease. It is often claimed that this will remove toxins from the blood but this is not really the case. These natural oils contain antioxidants which are beneficial to the body because they reduce damage to the oral cavity that is caused by free radicals.3

What is Oil Pulling Used to Treat Dentally?

Oil pulling claims many benefits to the oral cavity.

  • Cavities
  • Bad breath
  • Chapped lips
  • Strengthening gums, teeth and jaws

Not all of these potential dental benefits have been researched.

Oil Pulling and Cavities

sesame oil and sesame seeds

Sesame Oil and Seeds

Cavities, or dental caries are often caused by the bacteria streptococcus mutans. A study on the effects of oil pulling on this bacteria has discovered that the process of oil pulling is effective at killing this bacteria, although not as effective as the commonly prescribed antimicrobial rinse chlorhexidine gluconate.3 Even though the chlorhexidine worked better, it also had more side effects, such as staining and a poor aftertaste. Chlorhexidine is also more expensive. Oil pulling can be used as an alternative treatment for patients without access to dental treatment or those with allergies to chlorhexidine.3 Sesame oil in particular was found to decrease levels of both streptococcus mutans and lactobacillus acidophilus, another bacteria that can cause cavities. A moderate decrease was found in both bacteria from oil pulling with sesame oil.4 These results are promising in keeping the risk for cavities down in patients that are more prone to tooth decay.

Bacteria is a major factor in tooth decay, but not the only factor. Reducing this risk factor will reduce overall risk for tooth decay, but not completely prevent it in all people. Oil pulling can be a weapon in our arsenal against tooth decay, along with proper oral hygiene, fluoride, nutrition and control of oral Ph. Every little bit helps and prevention is always a good choice.

Oil Pulling, Gingivitis and Periodontal Disease

Studies on oil pulling have been conducted to find out if oil pulling has any effect on plaque, gingivitis or periodontal disease. Periodontal disease, gingivitis being a mild form, has many causes. A major factor in the development of periodontal disease is bacteria. This bacteria is found in plaque, also called biofilm which is the sticky slimy white stuff that you can scratch off your teeth before you brush in the morning.

A study focusing on both the plaque accumulation and gingivitis was conducted to see if oil pulling would have an effect on these two things. Results of this study found that plaque accumulation was reduced 18-30% which was more than tooth brushing alone. Gingivitis was also reduced 52-60% while reduction by tooth brushing alone was only 8-23%.1 This is very promising. Use of oil pulling can be a beneficial addition to an oral hygiene routine to reduce plaque and gingivitis. This study did not focus on more severe forms of periodontal disease so there is no clinical evidence one way or another if oil pulling is beneficial in these more severe cases.

How Is Oil Pulling Done?

measurement of oil for oil pulling

The process of oil pulling should be done in the morning on an empty stomach. About a tablespoon of oil (Sunflower, sesame, olive or mustard oils are often used). The oil is forcefully swished between the teeth for five to twenty minutes. This turns the thick oil thin and milky looking. It is then spit out, not swallowed. The way the technique is described, the patient should try to be in a relaxed state while oil pulling. Concentration on the movement of the oil between the teeth and throughout the mouth is part of the procedure.

What Does This Mean For You?

Oil pulling is very cost effective compared to other mouth rinses. On the down side it takes much longer to do oil pulling than it does to swish with mouthwash. Time is an important factor for patients when choosing preventative products or methods to use. As a hygienist I hear over and over how people have trouble finding the time to floss, which only takes a minute or so. I just don’t see how something that takes so long will catch on as a popular preventative technique.

It appears that oil pulling can be beneficial to those who do not have access or financial resources to other preventative procedures. It may also be a good alternative for those looking for natural options to reduce risk of decay and gingivitis.

According to Indian folk medicine, oil pulling has benefits for over 30 systemic problems. Since this is a dental website, I am not getting into these other possible benefits. For more on Oil Pulling Click Here!

1HV Amith, Anil V Ankola, L Nagesh. Effect of Oil Pulling on Plaque and Gingivitis. J Oral Health Comm Dent 2007 ;1(1):12-18.

2Asokan S. Oil pulling therapy. Indian J Dent Res 2008;19:169.

3S Asokan, J Rathan et al. Effect of oil pulling on Streptococcus mutans count in plaque and saliva using Dentocult SM Strip mutans test: A randomized, controlled, triple-blind study. Journal of Indian Society of Pedodontics and Preventive Dentistry.
2008.  Vol 26, Issue, 1, Page : 12-17.

4T. Durai Anand, C. Pothiraj, R. M. Gopinath and B. Kayalvizhi. Effect of oil-pulling on dental caries causing bacteria. African Journal of Microbiology Research Vol.(2) pp.063-066, March, 2008.

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