Have you heard of oil pulling? It’s one of those things that’s all the rage in natural-living circles right now.
If you read up on oil pulling, you’ll hear that this traditional Ayurvedic oral care technique naturally detoxifies, whitens teeth without chemicals, strips teeth of plaque, kills harmful bacteria that have taken up residence in your mouth, sweetens the breath and on and on and on.
The idea is, you put a tablespoon of raw-pressed oil (coconut or sesame are frequently mentioned) in your mouth and swish it around your mouth and suck the oil in and out of your teeth for twenty minutes, then spit out the now bacteria-infused oil and rinse your mouth out.
My reaction: “Swishing oil in your mouth for twenty minutes? Sounds weird. I have to try it.”
I’m not squeamish but my brief foray into oil pulling was one of the more disgusting things I’ve ever encountered. And guys, twenty minutes? Are you kidding me? I didn’t even make it two minutes. I am a total oil pulling failure.
Here’s what happened.
As many internet folks suggested, I tried to swish coconut oil. My house is 61 degrees, fifteen degrees colder than the melting point of coconut oil. So I got a spoon and carved a big blob of fully solid coconut oil from my giant Costco tub.
Fact: you cannot swish a solid.
I chewed the coconut oil until it melted in my mouth. It was at this point that the urge to be doing anything else but chewing coconut oil overtook me. The feeling of the hard oil squishing down into the ridges of my molars was the oral equivalent of fingernails on a chalkboard.
The coconut oil melted unevenly. Little bits of solid oil clung to the grooves of my teeth while the rest coated my mouth and tongue in a viscous evil. I could feel my stomach starting to object to this sensation in the most effective way it knows how and I was profoundly grateful that there was a sink nearby.
I persisted, thinking of all those benefits to mouth detoxification and gum health. As instructed by the natural living experts, I sucked the oil back and forth through the gaps in my teeth. This is where the “pull” in oil pulling comes from, because forcing the oil through my teeth was indeed like playing tug-of-war with my tongue. And not in a sexy way.
These people who manage to pull oil for 20 minutes? They are the Olympic athletes of jaw, tongue and mouth muscles. I would have thought that 34 years of chewing, often for intermittent stretches lasting far longer than 20 minutes (I call these training sessions dinner) would be sufficient preparation for the act of oil swishing. Au contraire, mon frère.
After twenty seconds I was orally fatigued by the plunger-like force required to squish the coconut oil all around my mouth. Ok, I thought, this is like Crossfit Oil Pulling: I’ll have to tabata this shit. Twenty seconds work, ten seconds rest, eight rounds. Three, two, one, go! You can do this.
No, no I could not. Not even close.
In the end, I oil pulled for about a minute and spit before I gagged – a very real and close possibility at that point. I ran upstairs and brushed my teeth, mouth and tongue with straight baking soda, which was like giving my mouth a healing massage after the violation of the oil pulling.
If you love oil pulling, fantastic. Many people do.
On my Facebook page, oil pulling advocates assured me it gets better and easier, and also recommended different oils, like sesame, which are a little easier to swish. I don’t know. In the interest of a fair assessment I might try this miracle technique again. Maybe. But probably not, and certainly not any time soon.
But that doesn’t mean I’m giving up on the idea of uber-gargling for health altogether.
If the idea of spending twenty minutes in the morning gargling with oil turns your stomach too, there’s good news! Very limited studies have suggested that it’s the swishing more than the oil that reduces plaque and oral bacteria.
“All participants showed a massive (80 percent) reduction in the amount of bacteria they carried in their mouth after nine days of oil or water pulling, respectively, with both groups showing near-identical results. While the coconut oil users did show a slightly greater reduction in the harmful bacteria, the advantage was too small to be statistically significant, i.e. did not allow the conclusion that it was the coconut oil that made the difference.”
So if you are interested in some of the advantages of oil pulling without the oil, try vigorously swishing mineral water.
I’m wondering if the best alternative to oil pulling for folks who can’t tolerate the oil might be a salt-water pull.
Salt water as a mouthwash has a long record of reducing oral bacteria load and inflammation. One study says,
“Saltwater rinses are a very archaic, yet effective, way of killing the bacteria in the mouth. The efficacy of saturated saline rinses lies in the scientific concept behind a diffusion gradient, which leads to dehydration and death of bacteria. Saltwater rinse is a commonly used age-old antibacterial measure. Long prescribed by physicians for sore throats, saturated saltwater rinses have never truly become mainstream, probably because of the unfavorable taste. A recent investigation by White and Armaleh found significant reductions in salivary bacterial counts with daily saturated saline rinses in adults.”
What do you think? Do you oil pull? Is the oil necessary for effective oral swishing or might other liquids be just as good? My friend The Crunchy Chicken teased me by suggesting bourbon pulling, but I would never waste good bourbon like that.3