The Benefits of Oil Pulling

By: Olivia Morrison

As I was scrolling through my Instagram feed one day avoiding my growing to-do list, I noticed Vogue had just posted a video featuring Hollywood’s most sought after, celebrity crush: Gwyneth Paltrow. I obviously clicked the link to watch the full video. Would I finally have insider info on how Paltrow looks like she hasn’t aged since she filmed Shakespeare in Love? I had to know. Long story short, I didn’t figure it out – I mean it’s probably a lot of botox and luck-of-the-draw genetics – but I wasn’t entirely unsuccessful. I learned that Paltrow views her oral health and skincare routine of equal importance; in fact, every morning, before she starts her day, Paltrow does something called oil pulling, an “ancient ayurvedic therapy” known to promote oral hygiene (Shanbhag 2016). 

How to Oil Pull:

  1. Measure out a tablespoon of oil (sunflower oil, sesame oil,  coconut oil, or olive oil are the most popular)
  2. As you start swishing the liquid around the mouth, the oil should become lighter and less dense
  3. Ensure you are forcefully ‘pulling’ the oil in between your teeth, like you would with mouthwash
  4. Gargle and swish around the oil for 5-10 minutes 
  5. Spit out the oil
  6. Wash off the leftover residue with water and follow with regular oral hygiene routine 

How does it work? 

When practiced regularly, coupled with one’s pre-existing oral hygiene routine, studies have indicated that oil pulling can have a positive effect on overall oral hygiene. The oral cavity is full of billions of microorganisms, some of which can catalyze the “progression of systemic diseases such as cardiovascular disease [and] diabetes mellitus” (Shanbhag 2016). Oil pulling drastically improves oral health in a plethora of ways from freshening breath to reducing tooth pain; it can also prevent gingivitis and inhibits the growth of plaque.  It does this through an “emulsification” process (Shanbhag 2016). After a few minutes of swishing it around, and intentionally ‘pulling’ the oil in between the teeth, the oil should emulsify, coating the teeth and gums. This emulsification mechanism decreases the “coaggregation” of plaque and bacteria in between the teeth – the main culprit of cavities. (Shanbhag 2016). 

Which oil do you recommend? 

There are a few options. Coconut oil tastes the best, but it is up to personal preference; all oils achieve the intended purpose of inhibiting the “coaggregation” of plaque. Coconut oil is high in “lauric acid” which is known to have antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties (Shanbhag 2016). Lauric acid is also the main ingredient in soap, which is why when used to oil pull, coconut oil is able to wash away most plaque sitting on the teeth and gums (Peedikayil 2015). Olive oil also has “antimicrobial, immunomodulatory and antioxidative” properties (Shanbhag 2016). 

Disclaimer

Originating in ancient India, oil pulling is a traditional folk remedy that has been practiced for centuries. The ancient ayurvedic therapy has, only more recently, become Westernized. It is important to remember that all too often white influencers, like Paltrow, create a eurocentric echo-chamber on social media by promoting practices pioneered by indigenous peoples. By not informing her followers on where and how these rich practices came to fruition, many influencers, perhaps unintentionally, whitewash and take credit for a revolutionary, traditional remedy (Shanbhag 2016). 

Reference List:

Peedikayil, Faizal C, et al. “Effect of Coconut Oil in Plaque Related Gingivitis – A Preliminary Report.” Nigerian Medical Journal : Journal of the Nigeria Medical Association, Medknow Publications & Media Pvt Ltd, 2015, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4382606/

Shanbhag, Vagish Kumar L. “Oil Pulling for Maintaining Oral Hygiene – A Review.” Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, Elsevier, 6 June 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5198813/

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