What to know about oil pulling and its effects on dental health

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Oil pulling involves placing a small amount of cooking oil into the mouth and swishing it around to improve oral health. Originally an ancient Ayurvedic technique, it has attracted growing interest recently, racking up millions of views on TikTok.

Since oils like coconut, sunflower, and sesame oil are thought to have antibacterial properties, rinsing your mouth with these oils could theoretically reduce the incidence of bacteria-related dental problems like gingivitis and cavities.

Some research suggests that oil pulling may have limited benefits for certain aspects of oral health. Experts warn, however, that it should not be used to replace standard dental hygiene habits such as brushing and flossing, and that people should never choose oil pulling as an alternative to evidence-based treatment for serious dental problems.

Evidence of oil pulling

Research on oil pulling is mixed, and there aren't enough large-scale scientific trials to prove it's effective at promoting dental health. A meta-analysis reports that while oil pulling does reduce bacteria in the mouth, it has no significant effect on plaque or gingivitis. Another analysis compared oil pulling to gargling with chlorhexidine, an antibacterial prescription mouthwash, and found that chlorhexidine was superior to oil pulling at reducing plaque and bacteria in the mouth. However, the overall quality of the evidence was low.

Some dental trends, such as brushing your teeth with charcoal and lemon juice for whitening purposes, can cause serious damage to your teeth. In contrast, swishing food-safe oils around your mouth is unlikely to be harmful, said Matthew J. Messina, spokesman for the American Dental Association's Consumer Advisor and assistant professor and clinic director of Ohio State University's Upper Arlington Dental Clinic. Matthew J. Messina) said.

“If a patient with good oral hygiene and healthy gums and teeth tells me they're doing oil pulling, there's no reason to stop doing it,” he said.

But oil pulling can be risky if it replaces other dental best practices like brushing, flossing, and visiting the dentist. While oil pulling may reduce the total number of bacteria in your mouth, it may not be as effective as mechanical brushing at removing plaque from your teeth, Messina said. And the oil sloshing around may not reach the narrow gaps between teeth where the bacteria that cause gingivitis often linger. This is why flossing is crucial.

Oil pulling to treat gum disease or cavities is also not a good idea. “Trying to treat it on your own may do more harm than good,” says Amelia E. Hartzell, MD, MD, UTHealth Houston School of Dentistry and UT Dentistry. “It's best to talk to your dentist, who can help you.” Oral Medicine, Messina added Infections should be treated by a medical professional, who may recommend prescription antibiotics.

It may sound boring, but brushing and flossing are the most reliable ways to keep your mouth healthy. If you want to mix it up, add a fluoride mouthwash, which studies show can reduce inflammation and bacteria when used correctly.

Hazel recommends brushing twice a day with a soft-bristled brush and fluoride toothpaste, which strengthens the tooth's porous outer layer and prevents cavities. Angle the brush toward the gum line and brush in small circles for two minutes. An electric toothbrush helps you move, all you have to do is angle it,” Hazel said. Floss at least once a day to remove soft food particles or plaque between your teeth before they calcify and cause gum disease or cavities.

Diet can also play a role in maintaining dental health, Hartzell said. The bacteria that cause tooth decay feed on sugar, so try to reduce your total sugar intake. When you do eat sugar, wait about 30 minutes before brushing to allow your saliva to disperse the sugar from your teeth; sugar breaks down enamel, and brushing too early may wear away the enamel faster, Hazel says. Carbonated drinks (even those without sugar) are known to damage enamel, increase the risk of tooth decay and cause tooth sensitivity.

Also visit your dentist regularly. While Messina says most people should get dental exams and cleanings twice a year, people with dental problems may need to visit the hospital more frequently for treatment and preventive care. Either way, your dentist is your best resource for maintaining oral health. “Find a dental office where you feel comfortable and get good, evidence-based advice,” Messina says. If you like oil pulling, it's unlikely to cause any harm, but you might also consider saving cooking oil for cooking.

Copyright 2024, Consumer Reports, Inc.

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