A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Oil pulling: A safe addition to your dental routine

Teenage boy using mouthwash - Oil pulling trend

Believe it or not, swishing with coconut oil for 20 minutes can be good for your teeth.

If you’ve just heard of the oil pulling trend, you may be surprised to learn that it’s an ancient dental practice that could be beneficial.

Oil pulling involves swishing a tablespoon of cooking oil (coconut oil and sunflower oil are common) in your mouth for about 20 minutes before spitting it out. It’s said to help prevent cavities, reverse tooth decay, improve bad breath and draw toxins out of the body to improve chronic illnesses like liver and kidney disease.

These claims are inflated according to Dr. Matthew Bluth, a Marshfield Clinic Health System dentist, but oil pulling does have benefits.

“The main benefit is decreasing the bacterial load in your mouth,” Bluth said.

He doesn’t actively encourage patients to try oil pulling, but he said it could be a positive addition to your basic dental routine.

It shouldn’t replace regular dental hygiene

The most important thing to remember about oil pulling is that it shouldn’t replace the mouth care routine your dentist recommends. Brushing, flossing, rinsing and seeing your dentist regularly are dental care basics that can’t be replaced.

“Oil pulling won’t fix a toothache or infection,” Bluth said. “Claims that it reverses tooth decay so you can avoid a filling or root canal are 100 percent false. If you have a dental problem, you need to see a dentist.”

How oil pulling works

Oil pulling reduces the bacterial load in your mouth, which is a good thing because excess bacteria contribute to bad breath, gum disease and cavities. If you already have gum disease and cavities, oil pulling won’t reverse them, but swishing with oil can keep a healthy mouth in good shape.

Swishing with water is helpful, but oil has special properties that lift and kill bacteria better than water, Bluth said.

Other ways to keep your mouth healthy

Oil pulling isn’t for everyone. You may decide 20 minutes of swishing is too long or too unpleasant. Luckily, there are other ways to reduce bacteria in your mouth.

Start by drinking plenty of water and avoiding soda. Chew sugarless gum to increase saliva and reduce plaque. Use a fluoride rinse in the morning and at night. If you have bad breath, ask your dentist if a prescription-strength mouth rinse is right for you.

“There are many ways to take care of your mouth,” Bluth said. “If you follow a good basic dental routine and take some extra steps, your mouth will be in good shape.”

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