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Oil Pulling: Any Side Effects?

Updated on November 16, 2010

Use of oil has deep roots in human history. Greek athletes ritually rubbed olive oil all over their body before competing. In ancient Egypt oil was mixed with flowers and plants to produce various healing tonics and cosmetics. For many civilizations it was seen as medical, beautifying, mystical, and an endless source of wonder.

Oil pulling is an age old Ayurvedic process that is still prevalent in India today. Recently there has been a drastic increase in interest among westerners. Since there are few scientific studies to back numerous health claims that are made about oil pulling, newcomers are inquisitive about possible side effects.

With such a long history of ancient civilizations oil pulling, ingesting oil and applying it to the skin, food-grade oil is clearly safe. Likely the interest in side effects stem from the claim that oil pulling pulls toxins from the body. There is no evidence to support this although that doesn’t necessarily mean that oil pulling is useless quackery.

Oil pulling is popular in India and word about it is spreading.
Oil pulling is popular in India and word about it is spreading.

One of the more realistic claims made by oil pulling advocates is that it improves oral health. Anecdotally, users have noted whiter teeth and healthier gums after sticking to an oil pulling regimen. The reason for this may lie in the fact it agitates and expels harmful bacteria such as streptococcus mutans. The act of rinsing the mouth is good for oral health, even with water. So how much using oil affects the results versus other mouth rinses isn’t clear.

Oil pulling soothes the gums, partially because the oil has a cooling effect and partially because swishing it around in the mouth massages gums tissue.

Some alternative medicine resource sites such as oilpulling.com recommend rinsing with hydrogen peroxide after gargling with oil. It is claimed that it is very effective at riding the mouth of any toxins which may be left over. People that follow this step should be aware that rinsing with hydrogen peroxide does have side effects.

Hydrogen peroxide is the most effective solution known for whitening teeth. Nearly every home whitening kit and the methods used by dentists employ hydrogen peroxide in differing strengths. While it is relatively safe when used to bleach teeth dentists go to great lengths to minimize contact with the gums when conducting a procedure. This is because peroxide can cause chemical burns on gum tissue. It may rid saliva of “toxins” temporarily as oil pulling advocates claim but it also disrupts the natural flora in the mouth. It nukes all microorganisms good and bad which simply isn’t necessary since there are ways to kill harmful bacteria and leave good bacteria intact. Numerous studies have proven that chewing xylitol gum or drinking water with dissolved xylitol in it kills streptococcus mutan bacteria without any drawbacks.

The Verdict

Claims that oil pulling heals a long laundry list of ailments such as head-aches, bronchitis, tooth pain, thrombosis and eczema should raise red flags. While oil pulling is perfectly safe and has no side effects it can become harmful to mouth tissue if you follow guides that recommend rinsing with peroxide. Those that want to try out oil pulling should only do so for improved oral health. Claims that it cures disease are unfounded and may prevent people from seeking proper medical counsel.

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      5 years ago

      I'm brushing my teeth with olive oil and it is awesome! it reduced inflammation (less bleeding when I brush) overall my whole mouth feels better. BTW I haven't tried rinsing my mouth with oil I just replaced tooth paste with olive oil.

      Thanks for this article!