Swish the oil
By Nancy B. Loughlin
Published in News Press on December 17, 2013. Posted with permission.
At first I thought it was disgusting. But, at 6 one morning last week, I gave it my first try.
I lumbered to the kitchen and pressed a tablespoon into a jar of organic coconut oil. I stared at the lump of hardened, waxy oil and raised an eyebrow before I slurped it off the spoon.
I set my meditation timer for 20 minutes.
At first I gagged. Coconut oil isn’t my favorite, and the texture was unexpected. The I Can’t Believe I Just Put a Blob of Crisco in My Mouth Panic subsided after 20 seconds. As I began to work the oil around my mouth, the lump liquefied. I winced at the flavor, nominal as it was, and began to swish it between my teeth.
This ancient Indian practice is called oil pulling, and it supposedly detoxifies the entire mouth, strengthens and heals gums, freshens breath and whitens teeth. Some oil pullers go as far to say that the oil can increase metabolism and treat chronic conditions such as eczema, asthma, hormonal issues and high blood pressure.
Oil pulling is a contribution of Ayurveda, a medical system originating thousands of years ago in India and a sister science to yoga. Many yogis who observe Ayurvedic practices believe oils are great in every orifice, so oil pulling was hardly a surprise.
As I worked the oil between my teeth, I pondered my skepticism as I prepared my lunch, filled my water bottles for the day and dressed for work. By then, I was 15 minutes in to the recommended 20. Five to go. My cheeks were sore.
The idea is that the loads of bacteria hiding in the mouth stick to the oil and dissolve before you spit them out. This leaves the mouth fresh and clean. All the bacteria that cause plaque, gingivitis and halitosis leave the building.
I was already familiar with the myriad praise heaped upon coconut oil for benefits ranging from its anti-fungal properties to its brain boosting power. I’ve long used it as a pre-shower full body moisturizer, for healing chapped and sunburned lips and as an overnight foot salve. It’s cheap, organic and accessible.
During my last few minutes of oil pulling, I hit the Internet. Finding empirical data to support the health benefits of oil pulling is difficult. One 2011 study determined that oil pulling therapy can be as effective as anti-microbial chlorhexidine mouthwashes in combating halitosis. The coconut oil pull is also linked with reducing the cavity-causing Streptococcus mutans bacterium in the mouth.
There are informational websites called coconut-oil-pulling.com and oilpulling.com, all loaded with testimonials and articles tagged with comments offering mountains of anecdotal praise for the practice. Readers report that oil pulling whitens teeth and reduces inflammation in the gums, returning them to a healthy pink.
After the 20-minute chimes rang, I spit the oil into the toilet (it would eventually clog the sink). Never swallow it as it is loaded with mouth bacteria that don’t need to be ingested. Did I feel different? Aside for my mouth feeling one pound lighter, a spot of inflammation on my inner cheek had subsided and my lips were moist and smooth.
It gets easier every day.