Picture yourself on a typical morning. You stumble into the kitchen half asleep, get your coffee or tea brewing, pop some bread in the toaster or some cereal in a bowl, grab oil from the cupboard and start gargling it in your mouth…Wait, what?

Yep, that’s right. Swishing oil in the mouth, or oil pulling, is now a Thing.

Unless you’re a wellness guru or fitness freak, you probably haven’t heard of oil pulling or all the magical benefits that it supposedly offers. A growing number of fans of the practice claim that swishing a spoonful of oil in your mouth first thing in the morning cleans the body of toxins by “pulling” bacteria and debris from the mouth and gums.

Some go as far as to say that oil pulling alleviates chronic pain, insomnia, asthma, eczema, diabetes, allergies and a dozen other serious conditions, even AIDS. Others do it mainly to get healthier gums, eliminate bad breath and whiten their teeth.

Whatever its true benefits, oil pulling has been practiced in Ayurvedic natural medicine for millennia as a remedy for oral diseases. It involves washing out the mouth with cold pressed oil—sesame, sunflower and coconut oil tend to be the most popular—for 20 minutes every morning before eating.

Oil Pulling

After swishing, the oil is spat out. The oil should lose its clear color and gain a milky or opaque color as this supposedly shows that it successfully “pulled” harmful toxins and bacteria from the gums. The mouth should then be rinsed with salty water and the teeth brushed thoroughly with toothpaste.

Various wellness bloggers claim that oil pulling is the secret behind their glowing skin, impeccable health and dazzling smiles. An American nutritionist, Bruce Fife, even published a book about oil pulling, claiming the practice to be “one of the most powerful, most effective methods of detoxification and healing in natural medicine.”

The skeptics harrumph over these declarations and deny noticing any health benefits. For many, simply the idea of swishing oil in their mouth for 20 minutes every morning is about as appealing as starting their day with a root canal treatment.

So what are you to make of this latest craze? Let me offer my two cents.

As a dentist, I’ve seen my fair share of fads promising great oral health and perfect smiles for little effort. It’s important to note that there no scientific data to back the claims that oil pulling boosts oral or overall health.

At the same time, rinsing your mouth with oil is unlikely to have adverse effects on your oral health as common plant-based oils, like sesame, sunflower and coconut oil, are harmless. So if you’re keen to give oil pulling a go, I don’t see it causing significant damage on your oral or overall health.

However, the most reliable way to get healthy gums, better breath and a brighter smile is old school: Grab a toothbrush, toothpaste and floss and get cleaning.

This way, at least you’ll know that those 20 minutes every morning won’t be time wasted.

Have you tried oil pulling or are interested in giving it a go? Share your experiences.

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