When I wrote Maximized Living Nutrition Plans in 2009, I never heard of oil pulling, which is odd because I thought I was current on every major natural remedy out there. But then, all of a sudden, I started to see “oil pulling” pop up online – everywhere. I started to wonder, had I been missing out on an ancient health practice that people have enjoyed for millennia?
History & Traditionally Uses
Oil pulling has been used extensively in India since recorded history. Specifically, we see it mentioned several times in the 5,000 year old Ayurvedic medical writings. In the words of an published in the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine,
“Even though dentistry was not a specialized branch of Ayurveda, it is included in its Shalakya Tantra (system of surgery). Problems such as deformities of the oral cavity, plaques and infections were managed in ancient India. Traditional medicine can treat various infectious and chronic conditions. Research has shown that all kinds of chewing sticks described in ancient Ayurveda texts have medicinal and anti-cariogenic properties. Its oil pulling (Kaval, Gandush) practice is claimed to cure about 30 systemic diseases.” (1)
Yes! Oil pulling is repeatedly mentioned in the Ayurvedic text Charaka Samhita where it is referred to as a cure-all for everything from diabetes and asthma to migraines.
Although not as varied as the belief of ancient Indian folk medicine, various contemporary reports claim that oil pulling is quite effective at preventing a number of oral health conditions:
- Cure tooth decay
- Heal cracked lips
- Heal bleeding gums
- Prevent bad breath
- Soothe throat dryness
- Strengthen gums and jaw
- Whiten stained or blackened teeth
However, to say to that the health benefits of oil pulling are “well researched” by today’s standards would be stretching the truth. Today, just 23 peer-reviewed articles have been published discussing the clinical trials and theory behind this ancient healing remedy.(2) Of those 23, the research is clear that it really works, although there is some debate whether the health benefits people have traditionally experienced from oil pulling is mainly due to the placebo effect.
Recently, an article published in the Indian Journal of Dental Research has debunked this criticism as unfounded on solid science. In the words of several prominent oil pulling researchers,
“The myth that the effect of oil-pulling therapy on oral health was just a placebo effect has been broken and there are clear indications of possible saponification and emulsification process, which enhances its mechanical cleaning action.” (3)
Step-By-Step Guide To Oil Pulling
There are a few different techniques to oil pulling and this is a protocol that I have found to be effective:
- First thing in the morning, put 1-2 tablespoons of your favorite, unrefined organic oil in your mouth.
- Swish it around gentle in your mouth for 20 minutes. It’s that easy!
- If you do this while you’re the shower or while you’re getting dressed, you won’t even notice 20 minutes have gone by.
- Immediately afterwards, dispose of the oil, rinse your mouth out with warm water and go on your merry way. You can also use salt water for added antimicrobial properties.
- Finally, brush your teeth as normal.
- I recommend following this procedure 3 – 4 times per week.
Note: The oil/saliva mixture you spit out can oftentimes be milky white or yellow … so don’t be worried.
I have heard of some reports that spitting the oil out in your sink can cause drainpipes to clog if you’re using oil like coconut oil that quickly hardens, especially during the winter months. If you’re concerned that this may happen, be sure not to use coconut oil or simply discard the oil in the trash or outside, as it’s biodegradable and will not harm the environment.
I’ll be a little transparent here. Like most doctors and health authors, when I hear of a natural remedy that has been used for thousands of years like oil pulling, I naturally like to try it out. I do this for two main reasons:
- First, I try to practice what I preach. I’m just like anyone else and I want to be healthy as the next guy. So, if taking a certain supplement or doing something like oil pulling will help enhance my personal health and wellness profile, you can bet that I’ll at least give it a try.
- Secondly, I’ll never recommend anything that I personally do not either do on a regular basis, or at least have done in the past and can confirm that it’s safe and effective.
When I stumbled upon oil pulling, I had an interesting experience. Expecting to receive some of the unbelievable health benefits that I talked about in this article, I was unpleasantly surprised by an overwhelming gag reflux when I first put the coconut oil in my mouth. It shocked me how much I was appalled by the texture and taste of an ingredient that I include in many of my recipes every day!
Evidently, this is somewhat common, with some sources claiming that 10-15% of people suffer from what is known as hypersensitive gag reflex (HGR). I couldn’t have known that I would fall into this category; it’s not like I put a tablespoon of oil in my mouth on a regular basis!
If you do a cursory search on Google about this, you’ll find a plethora of remedies to help keep the HGR at bay. My solution was to add 1-2 drops of peppermint essential oil, which makes the process much more enjoyable and palatable for my taste buds. I also recommend using certified pure therapeutic grade clove and orange essential oils to switch it up a little. This combination is very pleasant, refreshing and power-packed. Both oils are extremely rich in antioxidants, are strong antimicrobial agents, and taste great!
A Word of Caution
My holistic dentist is a very big fan of oil pulling. In principle, he says, when you look at the nutritional value and research behind coconut oil, safflower or sesame oils it makes complete sense:
- They provide nutrients for the gums and teeth.
- These oils are rich in fat and, since most toxins are fat soluble, it’s logical to see how oil pulling can help detoxify the body.
- These oils, especially coconut oil, are anti-microbial, which could help with harmful bacteria that lead to gingivitis and dental caries.
Interestingly, testing the bacterial cultures in the pockets and crevices in his patients’ teeth (by observing cultures under a microscope), he discovered that people who have oil pulled up to 1 hour per day didn’t experience the best results. He actually found that it did not have a greater impact on their bacterial composition whatsoever!
Granted, my dentist didn’t complete his research study in a structured clinical environmental and his data is purely anecdotal, but it does raise some eyebrows. Maybe his patients’ dental and eating habits were contradictory to the traditional benefits of oil pulling, or maybe it was the type of oil that they were using. Most experts usually recommend using the following:
- Organic safflower oil
- Organic sesame seed oil
- Organic extra virgin olive oil
- Organic extra virgin coconut oil
You should probably mix it up periodically so that your body doesn’t get accustomed to any one approach. Like most things, variety is the spice of life.
At the end of the day, I wholeheartedly recommend at least trying oil pulling once or twice. If you’re like most people, you’ll make it part of your daily natural health regimen.
Leave a comment or two below and let me know how it goes!