I have had several patients ask about oil pulling. I had to look-up online what it is all about. I did not, however, come across any concrete research evidence. What is your opinion or knowledge on oil pulling?
Thanks for this timely question! It seems that oil pulling is getting lots of media attention lately. It's mostly due to celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Shailene Woodley extolling the benefits of this ancient Ayurvedic technique. Oil pulling involves swishing (or pulling) oil around the mouth and in between the teeth for an extended period of time....at least 10-20 minutes. Supposedly, this action "suffocates" bacteria, leading to oral health benefits. The recommended oils to use are coconut or sesame oil, but there is no scientific evidence that the properties of these oils have any type of advantage over other oils for mouth swishing. In fact, there is little to no evidence to show oil pulling is of therapeutic benefit at all. If you Google the author name "Asokan" with the words "oil pulling" 4 studies appear showing reductions in oral malodor, gingivitis and Strep mutans. However, the studies are not of high quality. The authors like to claim that oil pulling is "as effective as rinsing with chlorhexidine," but note the small number of study subjects and the short-term duration of the studies themselves (two weeks at most.) However, that's not to say that oral health professionals should be dismissive of patients when they ask about oil pulling. We should advise them that this appears to be the latest craze promoted by celebrities but research shows it doesn't provide additional benefit over other highly researched methods of oral care: brushing and interdental cleaning, with rinsing as an adjunctive measure. It's important to point out that when individuals tout this technique, they promote it more for esthetic reasons: whiter teeth and fresher breath. Create awareness in patients about how you are tailoring oral care recommendations based on individual patient needs. If you find a patient is at higher risk for caries, you'll recommend a rinse with proven anti-caries capabilities. If you find a patient is at higher risk for periodontal diseases, you'll recommend a rinse with proven anti-gingivitis properties.
To us, it may be frustrating to answer questions about such techniques we see as frivolous and unproven. Turn it around - look at it as an opportunity to show your value as an oral health professional. Patients look to us for advice, especially when much attention is given to a popular trend. As dental hygienists, we can use this latest craze to show why we are the prevention specialists in oral health care.