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Debunking oil pulling: What it actually does

Based out of Dallas, Texas, Mary McCoy is a writer and social worker for disenfranchised women and children. She's a single mom, lover of Texas barbecue, and a die-hard fan of yoga

Before you jump on the bandwagon

"Oil pulling" is quickly gaining traction as a beauty and health treatment for the hipster generation. But before swirling unrefined oil around your mouth and through your teeth, here's what you need to know.
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Oil pulling is an ancient beauty and health ritual. The ritual involves placing unrefined plant oils — like coconut or sesame — in your mouth and swirling the oil through your teeth for 20 minutes at night or in the morning. Just go online and you'll likely see people touting the technique as a dubious cure-all for a variety of ailments.

What the fuss is all about

Lana Leahey is one woman who ascribes to the technique. "I actually started doing it because I heard it helps with tooth grinding," she said. "Since I started doing it my breath and overall dental health is better, and my skin seems better, too." She added that she's not certain the actual oil pulling is making a difference, but that the ritual of the practice helps her calm down and make better choices for her health throughout the day.

Others aren't quite as reserved in their support of oil pulling. Erica Stolman at Fashionlush is over the moon about the technique. According to Erica, the benefits "are pretty much endless and differ for everyone," but include general detoxification of the body, clearing of acne and eczema and curing of cavities, migraines and hangovers. She also claimed that her teeth are whiter and her TMJ is improving as a result of oil pulling each morning.

Slow down for science

Research on oil pulling, however, isn't as supportive of the technique as proponents might wish. Snopes reports that there are very few clinical studies of the technique, and the ones that exist only point to minor improvements in markers of oral health. Snopes goes on to point out that there are absolutely no studies to back up the claim that oil pulling cures or prevents diseases, "nor is there any sensible scientific explanation for how simply swishing oil around in one's mouth could accomplish any of those things."

Essentially, this means that you cannot and should not count on oil pulling to help with hormonal imbalances, inflammation, reduction in insomnia or skin health. It certainly can't cure cavities, either.

Snopes arrived at its conclusions by reviewing clinical studies on oil pulling available through the National Institutes of Health. These studies indicate that oil pulling may contribute to improvements in gum health, halitosis and plaque, thereby reducing the risk of tooth decay and nasty breath. The practice, however, is not clinically linked to health and beauty improvements in other body systems.

Reasonable expectations

If you're hoping that oil pulling will address everything that ails you, you're probably barking up the wrong tree. Research studies very clearly indicate that the practice won't "detoxify" your body, since it's your kidneys and liver that do that work anyway. It won't do much of anything for the parts of your body that aren't inside your mouth.

That said, there's certainly nothing wrong with the practice if you like doing it. Your teeth, gums and tongue are likely to benefit from the swishing of clean liquid around your mouth, and it's possible that you'll notice whiter teeth and healthier gums as a result. Like Lana Leahey, you may also benefit from using oil pulling as a calming and relaxing ritual at the end of the day. Just know that the benefits of pulling oil are about the same as pulling water or (better yet) antibacterial mouthwash through your teeth.

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