“Oil pulling,” which is actually an ancient health practice, involves swishing oil around in your mouth for 20 minutes a day, and though it sounds pretty bizarre,there are a few studies that say it may help you reap the benefits of cleaner teeth, fresher breath and healthier gums.
How did the trend of oil pulling—an Ayurvedic practice dating back 3,000 years in India, where it was a regular part of the daily detoxifying regimen—come back into vogue?
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In the early 1990s, a researcher presented a paper on the practice, identifying it as key way to reduce harmful inflammation in the mouth.
“Oil pulling has shown a definite reduction in dental plaque, a bacterial complex that exists in your mouth and causes gum disease,” says Marc Lowenberg, DDS, a cosmetic dentist in New York City. Indeed, a 2008 study found a “remarkable reduction in the total count of bacteria” in the mouth after swishing with sesame oil, leading to “reduced susceptibility” to cavities.
Why subject yourself to 20 minutes of swishing oil in your mouth instead of simply gargling with mouthwash?
“Mouthwash really just freshens your breath,” Lowenberg adds. “This process detoxifies teeth and gums.” We should note, though, that research shows the oil pulling is as effective as some prescription mouthwashes.
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Broader Health Benefits
Improving tooth and gum health may impact more than just your mouth. “Removing bacterial accumulation on the tongue or on the teeth and gums can resonate throughout the body,” explains Peter Auster, DMD, cosmetic dentist and president of the NY/NJ chapter of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry.”
The oil itself may offer nutritional benefits. Vermén Verallo-Rowell, MD, founder of VMV Hypoallergenics, swallows the coconut oil she swishes around her teeth and gums in the morning.
How It’s Done
To properly oil-pull, right after you wake up, swish one teaspoon of oil in your mouth for 20 minutes. You can use coconut, sesame or sunflower oil. Verallo-Rowell recommends coconut oil (ideally 100% certified organic) because of its broad-spectrum anti-microbial effects. When you’re done, spit out the oil, rinse well with warm water and brush your teeth.
To cut down on the boredom of the task, Lowenberg suggests swishing the oil while you do your morning routine. “Do it while you take a shower, comb your hair and get dressed,” he says.
Don’t have 20 minutes to spare? Verallo-Rowell recommends using 2 teaspoons of coconut oil for a vigorous 3 minutes. “Swish around the teeth, upper and lower gums and then gargle,” she says. Swallowing is optional.
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