Would you clean your mouth with oil? You may have heard about “oil pulling” from a Facebook post or a friend. But does this strange-sounding alternative dental method work?

Oil pulling is a traditional Ayurvedic form of oral care, developed in India more than 3,000 years ago. It involves swishing a plant oil – typically sesame or coconut oil – around an empty mouth for 10-20 minutes a day. Due to a recent surge of social media posts (e.g., “I Tried Oil Pulling For (Almost) A Week: Here’s What Happened”), this method has gained a lot of recent attention. Proponents of oil pulling say it can reduce inflammation in the gums, freshen breath, prevent cavities, whiten teeth, and even rid the body of toxins. Some sources even claim it can reduce symptoms of asthma and bronchitis.

While oil pulling certainly isn’t the cure-all some sources make it out to be, there are still reasons to think that it might be somewhat helpful. Swishing anything in your mouth for 20 minutes sounds tiring, but all that mechanical force may be helpful in removing plaque, the bacterial biofilm that accumulates on teeth and ultimately leads to cavities and periodontal disease. Indeed, several studies have found that oil pulling reduces the number of Streptococcus mutans (the main bacterial culprit of tooth decay), although not as much as a shorter rinse with a traditional mouthwash. Furthermore, coconut oil has some anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, which might make it helpful in reducing oral bacteria and preventing tooth decay, although again, not as much as a traditional brush-and-floss routine. Finally, while there is no evidence suggesting that oil pulling would have any effect on whitening, “toxin” removal, or the treatment of systemic disease, there is also no evidence that it is a harmful practice.

Oil pulling should not replace traditional brushing and flossing.

In conclusion, if you want to experiment with oil pulling, go ahead! You probably won’t be doing any harm. However, while this method is likely safe to use in addition to brushing and flossing, oil pulling should not replace traditional brushing and flossing, which have been shown to be much more effective at plaque removal, cavity prevention, and lowering oral inflammation.

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