Oil pulling and oral hygiene

Recently, I had a customer looking for a particular organic Portuguese Extra Virgin olive oil. He wanted it in particular because of its flavour, but not for cooking – he wanted it for oil pulling. He said you can really tell the quality of the oil you use when you do oil pulling – and this was the one he had found that stood up to his exacting standards. 

Have you heard of oil pulling? It’s the Ayurvedic practice of using oil to clean your gums and interdental spaces. It is a technique that has been around for centuries, intended to pull out bacteria and toxins from every nook and corner of the mouth. It’s a natural replacement for harsh alcohol based mouthwashes, and it’s amazing for long term oral health. 

Coincidentally my dentist recently gave me a lecture about oral hygiene. I have always brushed my teeth every morning and evening but have been lax with my flossing. During a checkup for an abscess (that turned out to be a  blister!) my dentist gave me a much-needed refresher on oral hygiene. He gave a thorough explanation of  the reason we need to clean between our teeth with an interdental pic (where your brush can’t reach) and then floss up under the gum each side (bacteria and plaque build up under the gum, leading to gum inflammation which leads to loss of bone and loose teeth). I asked if he had seen any evidence of the benefits of oil pulling and he said he had had a patient who showed huge improvements in their gum health that it had come from oil pulling. That’s not to say that oil pulling can replace flossing and brushing but it’s a great addition to your oral health routine.

For some reason, the clarity of his explanation combined with the relief that it wasn’t an abscess has meant that I’ve kept up the routine he suggested ever since – and I’ve also added oil pulling. 

I had been using cold pressed sesame oil but now I’ve swapped to the Olive Oil my customer recommended. And it’s WAY more enjoyable. I actually like the taste, which really helps. Next I’ll try cold pressed coconut oil, because that also has many benefits. 

Oil pulling is really very simple. You take a swig of oil (or a spoonful if you’re using coconut oil which is likely solid) and swish it around your mouth for three to 10 minutes. Your aim is to swish it between your teeth. The oil is spat out (into the toilet, not down the sink) followed by a quick gargle with lukewarm water. 

Ayurveda practitioners recommend making oil pulling part of your daily morning ritual. The traditional advice is to do it for as long as 20 minutes, but from what I’ve read even three to five minutes gives good benefits. I’ve also seen advice to brush afterwards, but apparently the ideal is to brush first because besides removing bacteria and toxins, swishing the oil inside the mouth forms a protective layer to prevent tooth decay. 

“The biofilm on your teeth needs to be reconditioned each day to retain healthy colonies of good bacteria. Rebalancing the oral microbiome is one of the key benefits of oil pulling. If you brush after you oil pull, you’ll actually brush away the anti-inflammatory compounds in the oil and limit their ability to support your oral health.” Dr. Mark Burhenne, AskTheDentist.

Oil pulling seems to be a lot gentler than commercial mouthwashes, and it’s beneficial for our oral microbiome. According to Dr. Mark Burhenne: 

“Alcohol based mouthwashes containing antimicrobial agents can disrupt the oral microbiome, leading to an imbalance of beneficial and harmful bacteria and potentially compromising oral and systemic health.” 

Since we know that our microbiome is crucial to good health, and we also know that the oral microbiome is the starting point of the human microbiome, it makes sense to be aware of what we put in our mouth and how it affects both the good and the bad bacteria. 

Commercial mouthwashes can be very harsh and can kill off the good bacteria in our mouths, so I was happy to find that recent studies have shown that oil pulling can be as effective as mouthwash in reducing harmful bacteria in the mouth. It can be very helpful in cases of oral thrush, bad breath, and bleeding gums. 

I’ll end with this quote from Dr Burhenne “Your teeth are designed to rebuild (remineralise) themselves on an ongoing basis, but this remineralisation is only possible in the presence of the proper nutrients and the absence of cavity-causing bacteria.” 

If you are interested in more information on functional dentistry and the importance of nutrition and good oral hygiene have a look at his website www.askthedentist.com – Dr Burhenne is a US based functional dentist and he has tons of helpful advice on his site. 

Let me know if you try oil pulling, and which oil you use – the suggested oils are cold pressed organic sesame oil, cold pressed organic coconut and cold pressed extra virgin olive oil. 

Organico Shop Deli & Bakery is open from 9-6pm Monday to Saturday, on Glengarriff Road in Bantry. Call us on 027 51391; if you have any questions, email us on info@organico.ie and find us online on www.organico.ie. 

Hannah Dare

Hannah Dare co-runs Organico, the café, bakery and health shop in Bantry, West Cork.

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