If brushing and flossing aren't getting the job done, you may want to try gargling…with oil. Before you say ‘Ew!' consider that oil pulling has made a major comeback, with the promise of whiter teeth, cavity prevention, clearer skin and even heart disease protection.
Only a handful of studies from the National Institutes of Health acknowledge the bacteria-reducing power of pushing and pulling oil through your teeth. Still, the technique has gained wide appeal and it's fair to say that those who do it regularly – love it.
Oil pulling isn't a new phenomenon. The idea came about 3,000 to 5,000 years ago as a traditional Indian medical remedy. Of course, this was in a time before high-tech vibrating toothbrushes and floss and before medical records were kept to document successful outcomes.
Today, oil pullers aim for a daily or every-other-day swig of coconut or sesame oil first thing in the morning. While both seem to "work," most pullers we talked to preferred the coconut oil for its sweeter taste and less pungent smell.
Coconut oil often comes as a solid, so it's advised to place the tablespoon or so under the tongue first. This allows the fat to melt down so swishing can commence.
"I did spit it out the first time," Aimee Freeman admits. Freeman is a holistic health counselor at Eating Deliciously Healthy and she started oil pulling after reading about it online.
"You're supposed to swish for 15 to 20 minutes," Freeman advises. "That's a REALLY long time!"
The investment is supposed to pay off as that's how long it allegedly takes for the fatty elixir to pull (literally) cavity-causing bacteria, viruses and other germs out of your body via your mouth.
"To make sure we are clean and healthy from the inside…OUT," says Elisabeth Gibbs, a wellness counselor.
When time is up and the oil has turned white and foamy, find the trash can. The last thing you want to do is swallow the now toxin-infested slurry and spitting it down your drain can give the coconut oil the chance to solidify again inside your plumbing.
After that, gargle with salt water and go through your standard brushing and flossing. That's right, oil pulling is not a replacement for traditional dental care – just a supplement.
The American Dental Association has yet to take a stand on the oil pulling issue. So to get an expert's take, we asked Dr. Yulia Paterson of Cape Fear Smiles in Wilmington.
"We like to think that this happens, there's really no proof or research at this point," cautions Dr. Paterson.
Yulia has never actually tried oil pulling so we talked our skeptic doctor into giving it a ‘go.' Much to everyone's surprise, even she became a coconut oil pulling convert after the twenty minutes were up.
"I'm afraid to say I may be willing to try it again," she commented.
Researchers do know that oral health is linked to overall health. So, while the dental hygiene jury is still out on whether oil pulling is a cure-all beyond cleaner teeth, if it gets your mouth the long-awaited attention it deserves then by all means…oil pull away!
While purists say to only use organic, cold-pressed coconut oil, others claim that whatever oil you can actually keep down is just fine.
Not to be left out, WECT's staff wanted to take on the oil pulling challenge. You can check out the video on this page to see their experience.
Keep in mind, like most health efforts, they take time to work so our single attempt is likely not reflective of long-term possibilities.