Many people’s New Year Resolutions revolve around eating healthier food, doing more exercise, and cutting back on harmful vices like drinking and smoking. But have you heard of anyone resolving to take better care of their teeth? Oil pulling, a traditional Indian medicinal practice, may be the perfect complement to your efforts to detox, shape up and get healthier. After all, a healthy, happy mouth is a strong indicator of a healthy, happy body. So let’s spare a thought for our faithful pearly whites in 2016.
You may not yet have heard of this newly emerging trend in dental hygiene, but in fact it’s been around for thousands of years, and is enjoying something of a renaissance in America today. It’s a natural practice, put simply, that involves gently swilling a tablespoon of an oil such as coconut oil or sesame oil around your mouth for twenty minutes each morning before brushing or drinking anything. Those who have embraced the habit report amazing results, such as fresher breath, lower tooth sensitivity, and even whiter, shinier teeth.
A Tooth in Time
Before the twentieth century inventions of toothbrushes, chemical toothpastes and dental floss came along, our ancestors found ingenious ways to protect their teeth, and treat various chronic and infectious conditions. In fact, studies of ancient teeth from prehistoric human skeletons show that our hunter-gatherer ancestors had far healthier teeth than modern day man.
The profile of the modern American tooth is not a pretty sight. Owing to our toxic high sugar intake and lackluster attitude to often costly dental care, around 95 percent of Americans have some form of tooth decay, and a quarter have untreated cavities.
Dental caries, gum disease, and plaque are caused by bacteria reacting with sugar in the mouth. These bacteria create a filmy layer which adheres to the surface of your teeth, and produces an acid which leaches minerals from the teeth and weakens their structure. The bad news is that once your teeth have decayed, they’re gone.
Oil pulling has it’s roots in Ayurvedic medicine, a traditional North Indian holistic medicinal system with over 5000 years of history. In the Ayurvedic tradition, oil was believed to “pull” toxins from the mouth, prevent dryness and reduce inflammation.
According to Ayurvedic medicine, sections of the tongue are believed to connect to different organs in the body, such as the kidneys, liver, heart, lungs, and stomach. They believe that oil-pulling can help detox your whole body, and help to cure chronic illnesses as well as prevent disease.
While this may sound far-fetched to those who are more cynical about holistic healing practices or alternative medicine, bear in mind that scientists have found compelling evidence that unhealthy bacterial loads in the mouth can lead to all sorts of unwanted outcomes, such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. The chronic inflammation as your mouth fights off unwanted bacteria can have terrible consequences which extend far beyond your gums.
How does Oil Pulling Work?
Oil pulling has several powerful effects that help to pull out all the toxins from your mouth. When mixed with your saliva the oil particles bind to bacteria in your mouth and stuck to your teeth. This helps to reduce the bacterial load in your mouth, and thus helps to reduce the buildup of plaque on your teeth, strengthen your gums, and freshen your breath.
Many oil pulling evangelists claim that it helps to whiten and strenghten their teeth, leaving them shinier and smoother, and find that it takes longer for the strange fuzzy buildup to develop on their teeth during the day. It also reduces sensitivity and gets rid of the signs of gingivitis, such as blood spotting when you spit out toothpaste.
Furthermore, with the reduction of bacteria in your mouth, oil pulling can help to prevent sinus and ear infections, and clear up skin issues such as acne and eczema. It can aid your digestion by promoting a healthier bacterial flora in your gut, speeding up your metabolism and promoting weight loss. Some even claim it can help with sleeping problems and migraines.
Why Choose Coconut Oil?
Coconut oil has strong antibacterial, antimicrobial, and antifungal properties, owing to the high concentrations of lauric acids. This means coconut oil is perfect oil for killing off unwanted bacteria in the mouth, eliminating bad breath, and preventing the development of plaque, dental caries, and tooth decay. What’s more, once you’ve become adjusted to the slightly strange sensation of a mouthful of oil swirling around your mouth, coconut oil has the added benefit of it’s gentle fragrance and delicious taste.
However, if coconut oil is not to your taste, or you have an adverse reaction to it, then you could also try sesame oil, sunflower oil or oregano oil. The advantage of using oil over a standard mouthwash is the absence of chemicals, and the higher viscosity of the liquid which helps to get in between all the nooks and crannies of your teeth.
Some Tips When You Start Oil Pulling
Take one tablespoon of oil in your mouth. You may need to gently soften coconut oil by placing the glass jar in warm water for ten minutes. Do this first thing in the morning before you eat or drink anything. Be warned that the first time you try it, you may find the texture and sensations a little unpleasant, but you should adjust to it quickly.
Gently swish the oil around your mouth for twenty minutes. If your muscles and jaws are aching, then take it more slowly – there’s no need to force it. If twenty minutes feels too long, then try shorter sessions of five to ten minutes to start and gradually build up from there when you’re more comfortable with the routine.
Don’t swallow the liquid when you’re done, and don’t be alarmed if the quantity feels as if it’s growing in size in your mouth – this is your natural saliva mixing in with the oil which is perfectly normal. Also, don’t be put off by the milky color of the oil afterwards. This is a sign that the oil has picked up a lot of bacteria from your mouth and done the job. It’s best to spit into the bin, as the oil could clog up your bathroom pipes.
When you’re finished, give your mouth a thorough rinse with water several times, to eliminate the last of the remaining oil, then proceed with your daily dental care regime as normal – flossing and brushing.
Bear in mind that techniques like oil pulling are palliative and preventative, and can’t restore your teeth if they’re already damaged. Oil pulling shouldn’t replace brushing and flossing, nor be an excuse for putting off those bi-annual dentist visits. Nevertheless, this natural remedy is so simple and effective, that there is no harm in trying it for two weeks and seeing if you like the results. It could be the best habit you pick up in 2016.