Celebs love it and healthistas across the world are talking about oil-pulling as the latest addition to their morning brush and floss routine. But are there any real benefits? Anna Magee went behind the hype (and tried it out for six weeks)
Take a teaspoon of coconut or sesame oil and put it in your mouth then swish it around for five to 20 minutes before spitting out. The new oil pulling trend sounds like April Fool’s health advice. But not only have Gwyneth Paltrow and Divergent actress Shailene Woodley waxed lyrical about it, it’s been a go-to daily remedy for some 3000 years in India. Enthusiasts for the practice claim that not only does it whiten teeth but that it also could add glow to skin, keep colds at bay and help exhaustion. So is it just a fad or is there something in this oil-pulling malarkey? I set out to find out.
Oil pulling is a traditional remedy in Ayurvedic medicine, the ancient Indian healing system. ‘Gandusha is the Indian/Sanskrit name for oil pulling,’ says Deepa Apte, an ayurvedic doctor and director of Ayurveda Pura spa in London. ‘It literally means pull out toxins from the stomach and spit them out.’
The daily routine she says, helps to cleanse and detox the body daily and along with removing bacteria from the mouth that brushing leaves behind thus reducing bad breath, it‘s also ‘known to reduce dark circles around the eyes, exhaustion and slow the whole process of wrinkles and fine lines on the face,’ she says. Now I am listening.
Classically in Ayurveda they use warm sesame oil, Dr Apte says. But coconut oil has become more common in the West. Although she says sesame oil is probably more cleansing, it’s fine to use coconut oil too.
Intrigued by the trend, I bought up three jars of my favourite brand of coconut oil, Chi extra virgin organic and cold-pressed coconut oil from my local health food store and gave it a go. A word of warning: start small. Oil pulling is a bit like running. If you have too much at first, you’ll feel sick. I mean think about it, you’re putting pure oil in your mouth and swishing it around – not a sensation most of us are used to. The first day was positively nauseating for me. But it got better.
As the weeks progressed, I found I could ‘take’ more and am now up to a heaped teaspoon and quite liking it. I find it comforting in the morning as I like the taste of coconut and find something about the fat makes me feel calmer. Furthermore, I used to get horrible dry mouth and that’s completely gone. With rather dry skin, I also don’t have that face-about-to-crack-if-I-don’t moisturise thing I used to get every morning after waking. Dare I say it, I think there is something in this, though I am still only swishing for five minutes – 20 minutes out of my diary for a small part of my oral care routine is an insane diary load for most women I know!
However, I was keen to know what a dentist thought. Would my teeth fall out or could the oil stain them? Could it reduce cavities the way some claim? To be fair, no oil pullers I know advocate using it instead of daily flossing, brushing and mouthwash but as well as. I asked my own dentist, Dr James Goolnik, founder of Bow Lane Dental in Central London and recently voted the most influential person in UK dentistry.
So far, scientific studies haven’t provided the necessary clinical evidence that oil pulling reduces the incidence of cavities, whitens teeth or improves oral health and wellbeing, says Dr Goolnik. By the same token, it won’t harm you or your teeth, he conceded. ‘Most practitioners advise coconut, sesame or olive oil so this is unlikely to stain teeth, veneers, crowns or implants or affect their structure’.
In fact, he says coconut oil would probably be preferable because it contains the ingredient lauric acid, known for its antimicrobial actions: it inhibits streptococcal mutans, the main bacteria that cause tooth decay. ‘For that reason, oil pulling is likely to lessen the bacterial load in the mouth but long term oral health benefits have not been shown. I wouldn’t recommend it as a replacement for your oral care and hygiene.’
So how does oil remove bacteria from the mouth? ‘Most microorganisms in the mouth consists of a single cell,’ says US dentist Dr Jessica T Emery, founder of Sugar Fix Dental Loft in Chicago and an oil-pulling devotee on her blog. ‘Cells are covered with a fatty membrane which is the cell’s skin. When these cells come into contact with oil – a fat – they naturally adhere to eachother.’
Indeed, Emery says that she took it up with her dad, who said his tooth sensitivity has diminished – when I read this I realised my own tooth sensitivity has virtually disappeared but I didn’t realise as I wasn’t expecting this effect. ‘It makes sense to me because we use vitamin E to soothe the gums and clove oil to soothe toothaches,’ says Dr Emery.
Will I be continuing, absolutely. But only along with my flossing and brushing, not instead of. Like I needed another ablution step in my life! But there it is, I am hooked.
So how do you do it? Dr Apte has the following instructions for oil-pulling:
1. Brush and floss your teeth.
2. Take a teaspoon of your chosen oil.
3. Hold the oil in the mouth for 5-20 minutes, swishing it around and moving it in the mouth as much as possible.
4. Spit out the oil.
5. Rinse the mouth with hot water.
It’s best done in the morning.
Click here to find out more about Aurveda Pura Spa
Click here to find out more about Dr James Goolnik’s practice Bow Lane Dental