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Oil Pulling: An Ancient Form Of Medicine For The Mouth

dental xray

This week, Jill Ditmirereports on an ancient form of medicine for the mouth. She spoke with Dr. Scott Reef, a periodontist and faculty member at the Indiana University School of Dentistry.

"We heard about something called "oil pulling," that's supposed to use coconut oil as a way to prevent cavities. So I decided to investigate for this week's Sound Medicine Checkup."

Ditmire: The technique is called oil pulling. And since it relates to teeth, it just sounds, well.. painful. But periodontist Dr. Scott Reef says it’s not. 

Dr. Reef: You’re not pulling teeth. Actually it's a mouth rinse.

Ditmire: But it’s nothing like Listerine. 

Dr. Reef: What the procedure involves is using about a teaspoon of any kind of natural oil like sesame oil or sunflower or coconut oil, and then swishing it around your mouth for twenty minutes, twice a day. 

Ditmire: Twenty minutes of oil? Twice a day? 

Dr. Reef: It’s supposed to pull the bacteria out of the gums and the dentin tubules that are in your teeth. 

Ditmire: Ew... 

Dr. Reef: This dates back about three thousand years ayurvedic medicine, which is a form of ancient Hindu medicine. That’s what they were using at the time. And now this form of medicine is considered more of a complementary, or an alternative type of medicine. And there’s just not a lot of scientific evidence that I could find. I did find some case studies that were mostly in alternative medicine journals. 

Ditmire: Dr Reef did find a study that involved teenagers in India who rinsed with either a mouth wash or the oils. Both methods lowered the amount of streptococcus mutans. 

Dr. Reef: Which is the form of bacteria associated with dental decay. However, the mouth rinse did reduce more of the bacteria than the oil. 

Ditmire: And both required 20 minutes of rinsing.

Dr. Reef: That’s a long time. And I would personally be concerned with muscle fatigue and problems with my TMJ.  

Ditmire: And neither involved a toothbrush, which Dr. Reef reminds is vital for a healthy mouth. 

Dr. Reef: You need the mechanical action of a toothbrush to break up the biofilm that’s in your mouth. Bacteria not only cause dental decay. They cause periodontal disease, which is disease of the gum tissue and the bone, which support your teeth. 

Ditmire: So save your sesame oil for your stir fry. 

Dr. Reef: Probably not going to hurt anything to do this, but it does not take the place of brushing and flossing. You have to remember when this was developed, there was no toothbrushes, floss or toothpaste.