Oil pulling is a simple technique with lots of big claims and very little risk. Scroll down to learn about the history and purpose of oil pulling, along with some tips from Dr. Bruce Fife, probably the foremost oil pulling authority.
Quiz: What did you do upon getting out of bed this morning?
- Pray a morning offering/devotion.
- Get back in bed and pull the covers over your head, screaming, “I’m not facing the day! Go away!”
- Immediately start breakfast for ravenous mouths, still in your PJs.
- Look bleary-eyed into the face of a toddler and ask, “Why are you awake already???”
- Kiss your spouse goodbye for work.
- Run a 5K.
- Take a shower.
- Put oil in your mouth and swish it around for 20 minutes.
Other than the 5K, any one of those might be the first thing I end up doing on a given morning. (Okay, number two is a bit of a fantasy, and number 7 is kind of rare – sometimes my husband will turn on the shower for me before I emerge from the covers, knowing that I won’t waste the water so I’ll actually get out of bed instead of a milder rendition of number two…just keepin’ it real here, folks!)
Does number 8, the swishing oil thing, sound a bit kooky?
It did to me when I first heard about “oil pulling,” but the more I learn, the more I find myself fascinated about it.
If you read my first oil pulling post detailing my initial experiences with the process, you’ll note that I was a total skeptic, had trouble finding time for the routine, and also that I had quite sensitive teeth at times.
I still don’t keep to the oil pulling routine every morning to be sure, but a few times a week I manage to get 20 minutes in. I can honestly say that I hardly ever notice sensitive teeth anymore, just a little bit when something really cold hits my mouth unexpectedly, and I don’t think I notice the sensitive-to-sweet anymore, like when I used to eat a date and cringe when the sweet date got down to my gums and all stuck in my molars. And I’ve eaten a lot of dates recently since I gave up chocolate and all sugars for much of Lent! (Do you know they are quite marvelous dipped in peanut butter?)
It could be the new way we brush our teeth via OraWellness, it could be that I’m just getting farther from the body-draining process of pregnancy (although I am still nursing), or it could be that oil pulling is a technique that holds some water.
I haven’t been oiling pulling very often for the whole year-plus since my initial exploration, however. I renewed my commitment to the process after listening to Bruce Fife’s talk via the HealThy Mouth Summit recordings that I am so fortunate to have been given access to.
Fife’s is the only talk I’ve found time to listen to in full, but I was fascinated the entire time. I need to take more long, solo drives with an iPod (and maybe see if my library has his oil pulling book link goes to Amazon, for all my free time)!
I’m going to share my notes today on Bruce Fife’s talk entitled “Benefits of Oil Pulling for Greater Oral Health and Whole Being Wellness.”
Below is paraphrased and annotated from Fife’s interview.
History of Oil Pulling
Oil pulling actually has a pretty long history, since Ayurvedic medicine times. Then it was called “oil gargling” – but that sounds kind of yucky and is inaccurate because you don’t actually gargle the oil.
Oil pulling is the process of putting some oil into the mouth, traditionally sesame oil, but often coconut oil is recommended for its antibacterial qualities. The person then swishes the oil around and around, letting it move around and between the teeth, around the tongue, gums, etc., ideally for 20 minutes.
The basic purpose is to “pull” bad bacteria from the mouth and spit it out in the oil when you’re finished (never swallow after oil pulling!). It’s the physical property of the oil that attracts all the “gunk” in your mouth, similar to the way the physical property of cohesion allows water to be so effective in the handwashing process.
If it sounds too simple to be true, you’re not alone. Even Bruce Fife, the speaker who has a whole book on oil pulling, was a serious skeptic at first. He thought it was more a myth than anything, but he kept hearing more and more stories of healing via oil pulling and finally decided to look at every journal/research article he could find on the technique. What he learned surprised even himself.
The Mouth-Body Connection
Although oil pulling is commonly used to aid people in healing their oral health issues, such as gingivitis, tooth sensitivity, plaque buildup, and more, it also has been found to actually improve a person’s overall physical health.
How can putting oil in your mouth and swishing it around possibly do anything to the rest of your body, you might ask. My husband would call it voodoo and roll his eyes, then do a Swagbucks search for “oil pulling quackery” and see what he could find. (More on that below…)
“The health of your mouth is tied to the health of your whole body.” When you have a healthy mouth (bacteria), you lay the foundation for a healthy body overall. If any of you made the probiotics call this month (I think you can still request the recording here if you missed it), you heard how many bacteria are in residence in our bodies (100 trillion of them, 10x more than we have cells…!). Every process that runs in our bodies to keep us alive and healthy depends on bacteria, so we need to keep them healthy and in balance (85% good guys, 15% bad guys).
Although over 80% of our immune system is in the gut, there are still trillions of bacteria in the mouth. Where does everything that goes into the gut pass through on its way?
Bruce Fife told the story of how Dr. Weston A. Price began to discover the connection between oral health and bodily health. A woman he had given a root canal to was wheelchair-bound and absolutely crippled by multiple sclerosis soon afterward. He was helping her with the symptoms of that disease, I believe, when he decided to test a theory: he asked he if he could remove her tooth with the root canal. Within weeks, she was walking!
Dr. Fife talked a little about root canals: Even with root canals, when the tooth is totally cleaned by the dentist, of course bacteria gets back in there because there are trillions of bacteria in your mouth. It’s a dead tooth sitting there, causing disease in your mouth. He says there’s no way a root canal can result in a healthy situation.
To continue to prove the whole body health connection to the mouth, Dr. Price did experiments by putting people’s teeth that he had removed under the skin of rabbits, and within days, the rabbits would develop the same (non oral) health problems the people suffered from: arthritis, heart disease, etc.
What is Oil Pulling Used For?
Beyond oral health issues, people have found great relief for a surprising number of conditions: Arthritis, heart troubles, diabetes, joint issues, fatigue, and more. The list of things people heal with oil pulling is crazy amazing! I wish I would have been able to type them all out but I was driving while listening and took notes later by memory…
One thing I do remember is when he talked about a “healing crisis” that sometimes happens when something is being healed. Healing crisis issues might include nausea, diarrhea, rash, fatigue, etc. Most of these things make people think that they have either gotten sick or that the oil pulling is having an adverse effect. People get freaked out, but that just means your body is fighting something and/or detoxing.
According to Fife, it shouldn’t last more than a day to maybe two weeks, tops, and then you’ll be in better health than before once you’re on the other end of a healing crisis. “Don’t stop oil pulling!”
The tricky part about that for the skeptics is the “what if?” issue – what if that’s all part of the bunk and you’re really hurting yourself? It’s a legitimate question, and one I’ve been asked when I mentioned a similar healing reaction as I battled candida – the idea of getting worse before you get better comes up often in natural health, but in modern medicine chemo is one of the only things I can think of that hurts you to heal you.
What do you think? Can a “detox” or “healing reaction” present itself negatively but actually be a good thing?
Oil Pulling Tips from Bruce Fife
If you’re more intrigued by the history and success stories, the details of which I didn’t share very specifically here, and not dissuaded by the skepticism, you might be interested in a few more details about the “how to” of oil pulling. Here are Fife’s tips:
- Oil pulling is best in the morning, but his reasoning was that you remember it then, not that it’s exponentially more effective at that time of day.
- He says if you’re trying to tackle serious health problems, do oil pulling three times a day.
- The best oil is coconut oil. Just a teaspoon is fine, for most people a whole tablespoon is probably too much.
- Always spit into the garbage, not the sink.
Who Should use Oil Pulling?
According to Bruce Fife, everyone should oil pull, just like everyone should brush their teeth, even if you don’t have oral or other issues you want to treat.
That was an interesting perspective to me, because of course everyone should brush their teeth – we practice many forms of preventative care on ourselves when we don’t feel sick, and oil pulling falls into that category.
I listened to Bruce Fife talk because I had access to the HealThy Mouth Summit, which is a collection of about two dozen oral health experts doing interviews – listen to the audio or watch the presentation via video. If oral health is a current goal (or problem) of yours, you may want to skim the speaker/subject list… You might also be interested in the Bass brushing technique, research-proven and just as fascinating as this (almost).
The Opposition: Oil Pulling is a Myth
I realized I shouldn’t say that my husband would look up oil pulling myths without then doing it myself. Here’s a sample of what you’ll find:
- There’s no such thing as detoxification, period, so oil pulling certainly can’t do that.
- This gal says there’s zero legitimate research on oil pulling and that it’s not even described in Ayurvedic history, that “oil gargling” does not match the description.
- This study, done after the gal above posted, states, “The myth…of oil pulling…has been broken.” It connected oil pulling to good oral health.
- This one demonstrated oil pulling’s effectiveness against bad breath and the organisms that cause it (bacteria), compared to mouthwash.
- This one showed similar results comparing oil pulling to mouthwash in the battle against plaque-induced gingivitis.
- This study concluded, “Oil pulling can be used as an effective preventive adjunct in maintaining and improving oral health,” but it was looking at reduction in the count of Streptococcus mutans in plaque and saliva. Their findings were slight, and not as effective as mouthwash in the saliva, so it seems to me like the conclusion was a bit of a jump without any qualifiers.
All the studies above were done with sesame oil, not coconut oil, and unfortunately, all seem to be variations on the same group of only 20 kids. Bruce Fife mentioned in his talk that he had read hundreds of studies, and I’m sure he did, but as an amateur researcher with access to only public databases, I didn’t find many. However, I also didn’t find any journal publications that debunked oil pulling as a hoax and proved why it didn’t work.
So. You can believe Bruce Fife, that oil pulling is a hair’s breadth (or is it hare’s breath?) short of a miracle healing technique for the whole person, or you can believe that it’s nothing more than a total load of bull. Or you can fall somewhere in the middle, that it can improve oral health but not whole body health.
Any way you look at it, it’s pretty low risk – there’s not a lot of expense or time lost in swishing coconut oil around your mouth for 20 minutes, during which time you can do something else, like take that shower, check your email, make breakfast, or read your favorite blog (wink, wink).
Do you “pull oil?” What are your experiences? What are your questions?
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Disclosure: There are affiliate links in this post to Amazon, the HealThy Mouth Summit, OraWellness, and MadeOn from which I will earn some commission if you make a purchase. See my full disclosure statement here.