A dentistry prof, a naturopathic doctor and an Ayurvedic practitioner weigh in on oil pulling, the trend of “detoxifying” your mouth with coconut oil.
Swishing coconut oil in your mouth for 20 minutes is hardly fun, but it has the ring of celebrity endorsement, and potential health benefits. The Star’s Graham Slaughter put it to the test.
It’s a 2,000-year-old Indian remedy that’s becoming a hot new beauty trend.
Oil pulling is the practice of swishing coconut oil (or another food oil) in the mouth for 20 minutes once a day. While oil pulling was first used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat oral pain, modern proponents say the habit can brighten skin, end hangovers and glossy-up smiles.
Celebrity health nut Gwyneth Paltrow effectively resurrected the ancient practice when she announced in a March interview that she started swilling coconut oil to whiten her teeth and clear up her skin. Divergent star Shailene Woodley has also endorsed the practice.
Since then, the trend has exploded. A quick Google search amasses pages of oil-pulling testimonials from bloggers to ABC News, with positive results ranging from whiter teeth to cured headaches.
But are those claims true? Or is this just another bogus health trend, the new raspberry ketones?
The Star spoke with three experts: a University of Toronto dental professor, a naturopathic doctor and a fifth-generation Ayurvedic practitioner. Two of the doctors had seen varying positive results, while the third had her doubts.
Bernard Weil / Toronto Star Order this photo, Actress Shailene Woodley, who stars in Divergent, is into oil pulling.
Leslie Laing, an assistant professor of dentistry at the University of Toronto, stumbled onto oil pulling while researching treatments for Sjogren’s syndrome, an incurable ailment that causes extremely dry mouths and eyes in female patients. The problem can be so bad that some women wake up having to “peel their cheeks off their teeth,” Laing said.
“We’ve tried green tea, which works amazingly. We’ve tried a few other things, but I decided to look at virgin coconut oil,” Laing said.
She prescribed 12 patients to try oil pulling for 20 minutes before bed for three weeks. She measured their bacterial and fungal loads before and after the study.
When the results came in, Laing was astounded.
“Not only did they find their mouths felt a lot moister, they also noticed that whatever teeth they had left — because they might have been decayed — they looked brighter,” Laing said. “There seemed to be a glossiness to them which they wouldn’t have had with a dry mouth.”
Laing also found reductions in the two major bacterial causes of cavities and reduced levels of yeast, which can cause oral thrush. Reducing these yeast levels can have help with bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, fatigue, headaches and even depression, Laing said.
The dental expert plans on recreating the pilot study with more patients to solidify her results, but for now Laing says oil pulling has clear antibacterial benefits.
“I’m not making claims that this is a be-all and end-all. These are preliminary results. But I am liking what I’m seeing,” she said.
For Rakesh Modi, these results come as no surprise. His family has practiced Ayurvedic medicine for generations, and oil pulling has commonly been used to treat patients with a variety of ailments, from bleeding gums to chronic pain.
However, Modi has a different perspective on the process behind oil pulling.
“It’s improving blood circulation,” he said. “You’re getting oxygen in your blood into the local area, which is required for the healing process.”
Those interested in starting oil pulling should start at two or three minutes and gradually increase time. They should also seek professional guidance, Modi said.
“It’s like if you’re taking a car for oil and lube — you don’t know how to do that,” he said. “That’s why you are taking the help of an expert. You want the maximum benefit out of it.”
Naturopathic doctor Allison Freeman recently heard of the trend from her patients.
“It’s been all over Facebook. People ask me whether I recommend this and that,” said Freeman, who has never prescribed oil pulling.
For her, the practice doesn’t make much sense.
“We’re ‘pulling’ things from the salivary glands. That’s not a major organ of elimination for the body to detoxify. I focus more on liver, colon and kidney,” she said.
Freeman hasn’t discounted the practice, however. She merely wants to see more science, similar to Laing.
“I’m glad to see there are some beneficial studies coming out. It is promising. When you have a few good results, that prompts further research,” Freeman said.