Oil pulling is one of many recent health trends that claims to help to 'detox' the system. Essentially, this one involves swishing your mouth out with oil, then spitting that oil into the sink or loo (except this will block your sink, so you might prefer to spit it into the bin, which is gross). The basic idea behind this, is that the oil will 'draw' out the toxins in your body through your gums and your teeth, allowing you to enjoy detox benefits (thus it is also sometimes known as oil drawing).
Does it work?
So that's the idea, does it actually work? The answer is yes, but only if your objective is to look and feel stupid while having absolutely no impact on your health whatsoever.
Well actually that's a little unfair. It turns out that oil pulling might be useful, just not in the way that some of the more 'alternative' writers online claim it can.
The Story Behind Oil Pulling
Like all health fads, oil pulling claims to have ancient heritage. In this case the practice is ancient Ayurvedic – because anything that is old has got to be right, yeah? (Those of you with mildly-racist Grandparents will know that this logic does not always follow).
Specifically, you are supposed to use unrefined oil – coconut oil is popular – and you're supposed to swish it around in the mouth for 20 minutes. In the words of a certain YouTube star – 'ain't nobody got time for that!'. This will then apparently cure your cavities, your gingivitis, your halitosis, your eczema, your acne… you name it, it'll cure it.
The logic is that oil will dissolve the bacteria in your mouth and at the same time 'draw' more things out through your pores. Bearing in mind that even drawing ointment doesn't actually pull things out from your skin (all it really does is to soften the skin), there is precisely zero reason to believe this is the case. And what do you know? There is no scientific evidence to back the theory up either...
So that's a pretty damning review so far. I apologise, I write about an awful lot of nonsense health claims and after a little while they do tend to grate on the nerves rather…
But before you write oil pulling off completely, it is worth mentioning that there could actually be some benefits. What's that? How? Well, it turns out that swishing your mouth out with oil is just a really good way to clean your mouth. And that's because it generates some friction as you swish, which can indeed remove a little plaque and strep mutans bacteria (see this study).
This makes it actually quite a good strategy for whitening your teeth and indeed for improving breath. And because improving oral hygiene is so important, it will help you to improve your immune system a little by proxy and could even help decrease your chances of getting cancer.
But wait a second, didn't I just claim that there were no 'miracle' benefits from oil pulling? And doesn't 'helps prevent cancer' count as a rather impressive thing to put on a resume?
Well what you need to remember here is that flossing also helps to reduce bacteria and can thus prevent cancer. So too can using a mouthwash, or just rinsing your mouth with a saline solution (salt and water, but don't do it every day). In fact just being really thorough when brushing your teeth is a pretty good place to start.
And the difference with all these methods is that they don't involve swilling oil in your mouth for a whole 20 minutes. Seriously, that's a point that shouldn't be understated. Just because toothbrushes don't come from the ancient oohmitingmi tribe, that doesn't mean they're useless.
Sure, swish with oil every now and then if you want to get a thorough clean. But there are a million better ways to spend the first twenty minutes of your day other than gargling oil like a loon.