When a friend replied to me recently, saying he was busy “oil pulling” and would get back to me, I really didn’t want to know what that meant.
He told me anyway.
Essentially, the idea is that you slosh around a tablespoon of oil (sesame, coconut, or sunflower are some popular ones) through the teeth in your mouth (hence the name "pulling") for ten or twenty minutes, and the toxins get sucked from your body.
Ayurvedic medicine has claimed the practice can prevent about 30 different diseases. After being put to use as an Indian remedy for numerous years, it’s been gradually catching on way out west. Reportedly, it has helped prevent tooth decay, bad breath, bleeding gums, cracked lips, and also helped strengthen teeth, the jaw, and gums. Some even claim it can help with non-oral afflictions in the body, like insomnia, skin health, or hormone imbalances.
How does it work? In a word: neutralization.
The stuff many of us eat causes an acidic pH in our mouths (low pH). This sort of environment is grade-A real estate as far as bad bacteria are concerned, so they settle down on Teeth Street and can cause a litany of issues from there. Oils, however, are alkaline bases (high pH). Thus, they can help even out that pH, raise the mouth's pH, drop acidity levels, and evict the bad bacteria from their dental residence.
But don’t trust me - let’s hear from some professionals with letters after their names:
"Well you know, it can't hurt,” Dr. Wayne Brueggen of Houston, Texas, stated, “There is at least one study that shows it reduces strep bacteria in the mouth.”
— Adele Clark-Whittle (@aclarkwhittle) March 13, 2014
As for curing other infirmities not immediately related to the mouth, Snopes believes there isn’t any “sensible scientific explanation for how simply swishing oil around in one's mouth could accomplish any of those things."
Dr. John C. Comisi (spokesperson for the Academy of General Dentistry) states, "Many people don't even take the time to effectively brush their teeth for two minutes.” Doc has a point there. My mom used to set an egg timer for teeth-brushing when we were kids. It felt like an eternity, so I broke it. And that's why I need fillings.
So, the scientific research on this practice seems inconclusive, but what does that matter? We blindly trust all we hear until studies get retracted and we don’t know if broccoli cures or causes cancer anymore. There are a couple things to consider. Regardless of what Snopes or Scientific American says, a holistic understanding of the body is that it doesn’t exist in pieces, so nothing happens in a vacuum; with that view, oral care could affect other bodily on-goings. What's more, no harmful effects have been reported. So, keep doing it if it feels helpful! If you're still wondering, however, how this could possibly be beneficial: perhaps for fast-paced people who take 20 minutes to try this, there’s something meditative, introspective, and relaxing about it that affects overall well-being.