Did I just hear you say ‘yeeeuuuuw’?
We’re back to our old friend Ayurveda here, the ancient Indian system of lifestyle and healing practices. The idea is that swishing oil – usually coconut or sesame – round your mouth for 20 minutes of so has loads of oral health benefits.
Let’s start with the benefits before we move onto the how-to (in case you’re still somewhere mid-yeeeeuuuuw). Now you know me, I tend to be a bit on the edge of controversy and I’m going to start off by saying that as with many alternative health practices there are research studies proving these benefits and others disproving them. It may be that in a pre-toothpaste/electric toothbrush/dental floss/mouthwash era, this was the way to go . The question for us is whether it’s still worth doing given that we have all those other tools to hand.
Right, the claims are that oil pulling:
- whitens the teeth
- prevents tooth decay
- treats gum disease
- stops bad breath
- reduces plaque on the teeth
It works by ‘pulling’ harmful bacteria, which cause most of the list above, out of the mouth. An article on webmd.com explains the process: “Most microorganisms inhabiting the mouth consist of a single cell. Cells are covered with a lipid, or fatty, membrane, which is the cell’s skin. When these cells come into contact with oil, a fat, they naturally adhere to each other.”
I found quite a number of dentists endorsing the practice as I was researching this – but all made the point that if we’re not already brushing for 2 minutes and flossing properly at least twice a day, we need to get that habit dialed in first. Oil pulling needs to be in addition to, not a replacement.
OK, all set? Here’s the how.
- put a tablespoon of oil into your mouth
- swish it around and about and through your teeth for 10-20 minutes
- spit it out
- brush your teeth
Do you want to know how I got on with it? Thought you might! Well, I’ve been doing it on and off for probably a couple of years now. Sometimes I do it most days, other times I fall off the wagon a bit.
You’re supposed to do it on an empty stomach, but I don’t. I think that, like with tongue scraping, the idea is to have a clean mouth before you start eating and drinking (and swilling bacteria down your throat). Yeeeeuuuuuw, I think I might have to start doing it on an empty stomach after all!
I use coconut oil because it tastes quite nice. I don’t use as much as a tablespoonful, and would certainly recommend that you start with a teaspoonful or less until you get used to it. Coconut oil is solid at room temperature, so you have to let it melt in your mouth, but one advantage is that it solidifies again after you spit it out which means you can dispose of it in some way that doesn’t involve your drains. I scrape it out into the bin every couple of days, wash out the dish, and we’re good to go again. I’m tempted to give sesame a go though after reading this.
I generally do it immediately after I get out of the shower, and swish until I’ve done everything else that needs to be done to make me fit for human consumption, wiped out the shower etc, and then spit it out when I’m ready to clean my teeth.
So has it done any good? Well, like any preventative strategy, it’s hard to know. My teeth are still a pretty good colour, my hygienist is always pleased with me and has precious little plaque to remove, I haven’t needed any dental work for several years, I only have bad breath when I’ve been at the garlic (or at least no-one’s told me otherwise …. ) Whether oil pulling has contributed to that or not is something I’ll never know. I don’t find it at all unpleasant to do, and it fits into my routine without taking any extra time, so I’ll be continuing with it and promise to update you in about 20 years time …..
Let me know if you try it or already do it. It’s not something that generally pops into everyday conversation, so at the moment I don’t know if anyone else I know does it! Let me know in the comments, or join the conversation on Facebook or Instagram.
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