If you’re reading this article, you’re probably a health-conscious person. Or you’re working on becoming one. So let me ask you something: what do you do to reduce your exposure to nasty chemicals?
Do you buy organic produce, read labels on food, cosmetics and personal hygiene products? That’s great. And I’m sure you’re also concerned about the quality of your air and water. Heck, you might even be checking out the ingredients in the detergents you use at home! But what about the toothpaste use? Yep, most dental hygiene products contain stuffs you would never tolerate in your food. A safer alternative would be oil pulling (swishing oil around in your mouth) and that’s what this article is all about. Enjoy the read!
Should you stop using toothpaste?
Definitely! And mouthwash too.
I’m pretty sure you’re thinking ‘Ugh, this RD is a hippie!’ But, bear with me, and go check out the ingredients on the packaging of your toothpaste and mouthwash. Here’s what you’re probably putting in your mouth:
- Sodium saccharin and sodium benzoate
- Hydrated aluminum oxides
- Phosphate salts and silicates
- Domiphen bromide
- Cetylpyridinium chloride
- Polysorbate 80
- FD&C yellow 5 and/or blue 1
And get this: many of these chemicals don’t even possess the advertised ‘benefits’!
Let’s consider mouthwash for instance. You use this kind of product to get rid of bacteria and have a fresh breath, right?
Well, I hate being the party-pooper here but mouthwash that contains alcohol can actually dry out your mouth while working against your oral defense mechanisms. What this implies is that the more you use a mouthwash, the less effective your innate oral defense squad becomes. Guess who’s happy? Yep, the harmful bacteria that are ‘offered’ the perfect medium to multiply. End result: worsening breath that compels you to utilize more mouthwash. And the vicious cycle goes on.
How does oil pulling work?
Our mouths are naturally jam-packed with bacteria – some good guys and some villains. The pathogenic bacteria produce plaque on our teeth. This plaque is actually a thin layer known as a ‘biofilm’ which the bacteria produce to help them adhere to the tooth’s surface. These biofilms are composed of polysaccharide and protein meshworks that act as ‘fortresses’ for the bacteria: these meshworks protect the bacteria against our immune system, antibiotics and other bacterial species. They also help the bacteria tolerate stress while providing easier access to nutrients.
Although you can’t get rid of all this plaque, you want to prevent an excess of plaque which causes all kinds of nasty issues such as gingivitis, cavities, bad breath, yellow teeth and inflammation.
And that’s where oil pulling can come in handy. You see, when you swish oil around in your mouth, the fats in the oil mix with the biofilm and other substances in your mouth to form a ‘soap’. This soap cleanses the oral cavity and traps the bacteria which are eliminated when you spit out the oil after you’ve swished it in your mouth.
Health benefits of oil pulling
Did you know that ancient Ayurvedic medicine recommends oil pulling? In fact, the Ayurvedic text Charaka Samhita which is more than 2000 years old claims that carrying out this practice regularly can cure about 30 systemic ailments ranging from headaches and tooth decay to diabetes and asthma. True, this doesn’t automatically make oil pulling legit, so let’s have a look at the evidence-based benefits of this practice.
Pop quiz: What’s the main bacteria in the mouth?
The award goes to Streptococcus Mutans, one of the bad guys behind plaque buildup and tooth decay and the primary cause of cavities. In fact, research has shown a relative increase of Streptococcus Mutans counts in plaque samples from tooth surfaces that become carious at a later stage. Oil pulling may help kill these bacteria.
In 2008, researchers investigated the effects of sesame oil on Streptococcus Mutans bacterial count in saliva and plaque. The 20 adolescents (aged 16-18 years) involved in this triple-blind random control trial were divided into two groups: oil pulling was practiced in one group whereas participants in the other group used a regular mouthwash containing chlorhexidine (the gold standard mouthwash with antibacterial properties) in the morning for 10 minutes every day.
Samples from both groups were collected after (i) 24 hours, (ii) 48 hours, (iii) one week and (iv) two weeks. The researchers found that both the chlorhexidine and oil were highly effective in eradicating the bacteria. However, these effects were only seen after one and two weeks in the oil pulling group: reduced bacterial count was observed at all the four time points in the control group.
Despite these observations, oil pulling has certain advantages over chlorhexidine:
- It is less likely to cause allergic reactions.
- Research suggests that chlorhexidine could increase blood pressure by up to 3.5 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) thereby increasing your risk of heart attack.
- It works at relatively low concentrations.
- Long term utilization of chlorhexidine alters taste sensation and produces hard to remove brown stains on the teeth. Oil pulling may be gross at first but it is in no way as nasty as chlorhexidine.
In another oil pulling study also involving sesame oil, researchers reported a ‘remarkable’ decline (20% on average) in the total oral bacterial count after 40 days. That’s not all; the participants’ susceptibility for dental cavities also decreased significantly. The authors explained that oil pulling therapy was effective in preventing bacterial growth and adhesion to the teeth.
Gingivitis refers to a mild form of periodontal disease that involves inflammation of the gingiva (or gum) which is part of the soft tissue that lines the mouth and acts as a seal around the teeth. Plaque-induced gingivitis occurs when plaque spreads underneath the gum line – this triggers an inflammatory response. If left unchecked, gingivitis can lead to a more serious infection known as periodontitis. Oil pulling may be a solution to this problem.
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