Is Oil Pulling “Pulling Your Leg”? The Truth Behind Natural Dentistry

Coconut, a toothbrush, and a bowl with melted coconut oil on a wood table

Oil pulling is the latest dental trend that boasts an at home cavity remedy. It asserts swishing coconut, sunflower, or sesame oil for about 10-20 minutes a day can remove plaque and cure cavities without the need for a dental visit. While oil pulling may have some benefits toward your oral health, it should never be used as a replacement for daily brushing and flossing, or regular dental checkups.

The History

Oil pulling is an ancient Indian Hindu practice that began in India over 3,000 years ago as a variation of Ayurvedic medicine. The Ayurvedic medical model believes in a balance between the mind and body, and is primarily intended as a method of maintaining good health, rather than fighting disease. Historically, and for thousands of years, oil pulling was used to treat a variety of ailments including headaches, acne, diabetes, and asthma.

Under the Ayurvedic medical model, the belief is that oil pulling will essentially “pull” toxins out of the body and this removal of toxins will maintain good health. When applied to dentistry, the belief is that oil pulling removes the bacteria that causes tooth decay and gum disease. In removing this toxin, or bacteria, oral health can then be maintained and cavities can be prevented.

Dentistry at Home

To carry out this tooth decay treatment at home, all you need is a tablespoon of oil. The best oil for oil pulling is currently believed to be coconut oil because it has lauric acid and a pleasant flavor. Lauric acid is both an anti-inflammatory and an antimicrobial. However, if you do not have coconut oil, then sesame or sunflower oil are also beneficial in healing cavities naturally.

Close up of a woman's mouth and a spoonful of oil

To oil pull, you place a tablespoon of oil in your mouth, swish it around your mouth for about 10-20 minutes, then spit out the oil. If you are using coconut oil, you will want to avoid spitting the oil down the drain because it can harden and clog your drain. One of the main benefits of oil pulling is that it can reduce the amount of bacteria in your mouth.

By reducing the amount of bacteria in your mouth, you are less likely to develop gum disease, bad breath, and you can even prevent cavities. While there are several claims about oil pulling, there is some emerging evidence to support oil pulling as a beneficial home remedy for preventing gum disease and dental cavities.

Is Oil Pulling Effective?

One study found that oil pulling with coconut oil for 10 minutes a day reduced the number of bacteria known to cause plaque and tooth decay. Another study concluded that both oil pulling and mouthwash were equally effective in the prevention of gingivitis. Although some scientists still believe that oil pulling is not as effective as modern mouthwash.

As with any form of treatment, oil pulling also has its own set of risks and complications. For starters, some people suffer from upset stomachs after an oil pulling session. Additionally, if oil is accidentally inhaled, it can cause a lipoid pneumonia from an accumulation of lipids in the lungs. As a final note, you will want to make sure you do not have any allergies to the oil you are using to prevent respiratory distress or other allergic reactions.

Can Oil Pulling Reverse Cavities?

While oil pulling may be beneficial for reducing bacteria and preventing tooth decay or gum disease, it must be said that no amount of oil pulling can reverse cavities. A dental cavity, also known as carie, is a permanently damaged area of the enamel or dentin layer. Cavities occur when bacteria produces acids that slowly erode the tooth’s tissue. Unfortunately once a cavity has formed, there is no such thing as a natural cure for tooth decay and only modern dental practices can save the tooth.

Various stages of cavity development from enamel cavities, to dentin cavities, to pulpitis, and finally to periodontitis.

When a cavity is present, a dental filling is usually the dental treatment of choice because it will remove the decayed tissue, repair the cavity, and prevent the spread of infection. In the case of larger cavities, dental inlays or onlays may also be used. A dental inlay is a large filling that sits within the chewing surface of the molars. A dental onlay sits within the chewing surface, as well as on one or more cusps, or points, of the tooth.

To place a dental filling Dr. Vodonick and Dr. Wismer will anesthetize the tooth, remove the decayed tissue, clean the cavity, and then fill the cavity. If an inlay or onlay is required, a dental impression will likely be taken after the cavity has been cleaned. This impression will be sent to a dental laboratory to custom fabricate your inlay or onlay, and a temporary filling will be placed in the meantime.

Without proper dental treatment, cavities will simply continue to erode the enamel and dentin layers until the bacteria reaches the innermost layer of the tooth, known as the pulp layer. This can cause a great deal of pain, swelling, inflammation, and trouble speaking or eating. Once the dental pulp has become infected, root canals are necessary to prevent the loss of the tooth or the infection of the surrounding teeth.

What About Regular Dental Care?

It is also important to note that oil pulling is NOT a replacement for your everyday dental care routine. Even if you choose to implement oil pulling as a preventative measure, it is still essential to brush your teeth twice a day using a fluoridated toothpaste and floss once a day. It is also essential to schedule regular dental checkups with Legacy Dental at least once every six months.

Close up of a woman's mouth with a toothbrush about to brush the teeth

Regular dental checkups allow our dentists, Dr. Steven Vodonick and Dr. Russel Wismer to track your dental health and identify any possible dental issues early on. Additionally, part of your dental checkup is your professional teeth cleaning. Professional teeth cleanings remove both plaque and tartar from your teeth in order to keep your mouth clean. While plaque can be removed by teeth brushing and oil pulling, tartar is much harder and can only be removed through the use of special dental tools.

How long has it been since your last dental checkup? To prevent tooth decay from occurring and spreading, schedule a consultation with Kansas City’s top dental office, Legacy Dental. Our dentists Dr. Steven Vodonick and Dr. Russel Wismer are proud to offer you the best dental care has to offer!

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