If Gwyneth Paltrow does it should you?
One of the hottest trending items found out there in the twitterverse and social blogging world, is the practice of ‘Oil pulling’ (swishing oil in the mouth) which is purported to have numerous systemic and oral health benefits. If you google ‘Oil pulling and teeth’ you will find more than 2 million search results discussing the oral health benefits of swishing sesame, olive, sunflower or coconut oil. Oil pulling claims to prevent tooth decay, halitosis, gingivitis, throat dryness, and cracked lips. Some practitioners of the practice also think it helps whiten teeth and aids in the strengthening of teeth, gums and the jaw.
The practice of oil pulling has its roots in traditional Indian medicine. It is mentioned in the Charaka Samhita, one of the key texts in the practice of Indian medicine known as Ayurveda. Ayurveda is a holistic system of natural healing which evolved in India some 3000-5000 years ago, a system of traditional medicine native to the Indian subcontinent, now practiced in other parts of the world as a form of complementary medicine. It is a complex and individualistic form of medicine which carefully prescribes different forms of therapy depending on the individual. “Oil pulling” is but one part of this traditional medicine, and besides from it’s oral benefits, it is claimed to cure about 30 systemic diseases ranging from migranes to diabetes and asthma, weight loss, clear skin and improved kidney function.
“Oil pulling” involves placing a tablespoon of your edible oil of choice in your mouth, then sipping, sucking and pulling between the teeth for up to 20 minutes or longer. The exact mechanism of the action of oil pulling therapy in the oral cavity has not been clarified. It is thought to prevent plaque from binding to teeth by inhibiting bacterial adhesion and plaque co-aggregation. It may also have a ‘soap-like’ action (or saponification) which can prevent inflammation and bacterial infection.
It is not clear why this traditional method of dental care has suddenly become such a darling of the social media world. Aside from celebrities and alternative/traditional medicine espousing it’s benefits, there has been relatively little in the way of critical, scientific peer reviewed studies done to either support or refute these claims. The few studies (mostly published in Indian Journals) that are regularly quoted by believers in ‘oil pulling’ have clear limitations. The American Dental Association found the following – “Existing studies are unreliable for a number of reasons, including the misinterpretation of results due to small sample size, confounders, absence of negative controls, lack of demographic information , and lack of blinding. To date, scientific studies have not provided the necessary clinical evidence to demonstrate that oil pulling reduces the incidence of dental caries, whitens teeth or improves oral health and well being.”
Evidence based medicine differs from Google based medicine, in that recommendations and guidelines are typically drawn from a large body of peer reviewed studies and committees which methodically, and some would argue very slowly, sort through the data before coming to a consensus opinion. While we all hope for a magic pill to cure cancer, or even a simple ‘natural’ way of preventing cavities, one needs to be patient when analyzing new alternative/holistic therapies. Our recommendations to all of our patients is based on sound scientific principles and demonstrated clinical safety and effectiveness – “Oil pulling” has yet to meet these critical standards, and hence, we would be hard pressed to recommend this practice for our own patients. As they say in the scientific world, more research is needed.
I guess it comes down to who you believe – movie stars make great movies, but I’m not sure I’d go to them for dental advice.