Oil Pulling: Should You Really Swish Oil in Your Mouth?

3 years ago

A friend posted a link to a blog post about oil pulling, the act of swishing oil around in your mouth for twenty minutes in order to pull bacteria from your teeth and gums.  The blogger said she's hooked, and detailed everything you need to know about this folk remedy from the type of oil to where you should spit it out.

But before you reach for that jar of coconut oil, you should probably check Snopes.com.

Image: Veganbaking.net via Flickr

Yes, it has already been given the Snopes treatment, earning a false grade which is sure to enrage people who believe they're helping their overall health by swishing oil in their mouth and placate those who would never dream of taking an sesame oil gargle.

Their point is like so many things, the benefits are based on anecdotal evidence (usually from a faceless, nameless stranger) vs. actual research.  Skeptoid looked into the practice last fall and states:

Oil pulling’s positive effects are based entirely on anecdote and not at all on clinical research – because there’s been very little. Pubmed lists six clinical studies related to oil pulling, all performed in India, and their quality and results seem all over the map. Some do indicate mild improvement in gum health, comparable to mouthwash use. But they’re not well blinded, use very small sample sizes and involve oil pulling only as part of a proper oral hygiene regimen. So it’s impossible to tell what’s causing said improvement.

If this has been around for years, why is it getting popular this week?  Why are countless bloggers suddenly writing about their oil swishing, and why is it exploding in my Facebook feed?  It seems to have hit that critical tipping point, dropping the subject matter into popular culture after only being embraced by a small niche.

In any case, if you want to swish oil in your mouth, that's fine.  As Skeptoid so aptly states:

The difference between a proven medical treatment and an unproven natural one is that the proven medical treatment has exact recommendations for use and dosages derived through copious research, while the natural one is basically whatever you want it to be for however long you want it to be. 

And in this case, without the research to back it up, it is no more helpful than swishing mint leaves steeped in water in your mouth for 20 minutes, or any other act that you can come up with that makes you pay attention to your mouth for a large amount of time.  Your dental health is important, affecting your overall health.

I think I'm going to stick to my usual regimen of brushing and flossing: two acts with research backing up their benefits.  A better way to spend my 20 minutes.

Have you been curious to try oil pulling?  Has it been exploding on your Facebook feed too?

Melissa writes Stirrup Queens and Lost and Found. Her novel about blogging is Life from Scratch.

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