By Dr. Tan Wah Ching, Periodontist (Gum Specialist) of The Dental Studio, a Singapore Medical Group (SMG) clinic

Photo credit: Singapore Medical Group (SMG)

Oil pulling has been gaining popularity among those who believe in alternative therapy. So what exactly is oil pulling? Can it really replace traditional home oral care?

Oil pulling is a traditional Indian folk remedy that has been extensively used for many years, and is said to prevent dental caries, bleeding gums, mouth odour (halitosis), dryness of throat and cracked lips. It is also believed to strengthen teeth and gums. However, there is not enough scientific evidence to support its benefits. 

Oils such as sunflower oil, sesame oil, and even coconut oil have been associated with oil pulling. One tablespoon of oil is used each time, and is swished between the teeth for 10 to 15 minutes, following which the oil is spat out and discarded. This is then followed by routine tooth brushing. The procedure is recommended with an empty stomach in the morning.

However, a recent study has demonstrated that oil pulling alone may not be enough to replace routine dental visits and traditional home oral care. Asokan et al. (2008) compared oil pulling with the use of a chlorhexidine mouthwash. The authors found a reduction in oral bacteria counts for both groups of patients, but the use of chlorhexidine mouthwash showed more bacteria reduction when compared to the oil pulling group. It should be noted that tooth brushing was still performed after oil pulling in the study.

Thus, based on limited scientific evidence, we do not recommend oil pulling as a replacement for traditional home oral care, and the use of a trusty toothbrush to perform mechanical oral hygiene is still the mainstay for preventing dental caries and gum disease. SO why not follow the traditional time-tested method of maintaining oral health? This would include a few simple steps as below:

– Brushing your teeth twice daily with a soft toothbrush and fluoride-containing toothpaste.
– Interdental cleaning (spaces between teeth) with floss or interdental brushes at least once a day, preferably at night.
– Visiting your dentist every six months for regular check-ups and professional cleaning.

Make a conscious effort to keep to the above regimen, and healthy teeth and gums will be an achievable goal for all.