Oil pulling gaining traction as a way to get pearly whites

Written By By Jane Donahue For Sun-Times Media Posted: 04/09/2014, 03:42pm
Array Pouring oil on spoon isolated

Rebecca Niziol said she was terrified when her dentist told her she had early signs of gum disease. Hoping to avoid surgery, the Gold Coast resident searched for ways to improve her gum health. Then she discovered oil pulling.

“I had nothing to lose, so I started morning oil pulling with the hopes that I could avoid surgery,” said Niziol, 25.

Oil pulling is an ancient Ayurvedic practice that has experienced a recent resurgence throughout the United States. The concept is simple: Place a tablespoon of oil — like sesame, sunflower or coconut – into your mouth, pulling it through your teeth and around your gums. After about 20 minutes of swishing, the oil is said to remove toxins and bacteria. The oil is then spit out.

“I prefer coconut oil because it’s not as intense and heavy as something like sesame oil,” said Niziol. “Since you’re swishing it for 15-20 minutes, you want to make sure it’s a taste you enjoy or you won’t do it with any regularity.” Niziol said she thinks her breath is fresher and her teeth are shinier.

Oil pulling has been making headlines recently, with users boasting not only oral health benefits, but claiming relief from eczema, migraines and even hangovers. Celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow credit it for pearly whites.

Roshni Shah, 27, said grew up doing things like oil pulling and using various “home remedies.”

“It’s really easy to put it in your mouth while you are doing other things, watching TV or reading,” said Shah. “It doesn’t replace things; oil pulling is not a solution to avoid going to the dentist.”

Dr. Martin Hogan, division director of dentistry at Loyola University Health System, cautions about the recent buzz surrounding the age-old practice.

“When I first heard about it, I went to the American Dental Association to try and find research on it and there is nothing that is published,” said Hogan. “I always want something to be supported by medical and dental journals before I buy into it.”

For that reason, he’s not suggesting everyone rush out and try it.

“Oil pulling is not something that I recommend to patients,” said Hogan. “I recommend routine cleanings and proper brushing and flossing. If they want to use holistic remedies in addition to that — and they think it’s going to help — they are welcome to do it, but I stress, you need to brush and floss and come in every six months.”

Lakeview resident Jaime Haak started oil pulling in 2011, and said while research may not tout the benefits of oil pulling, she believes it has made a difference.

“When my dentist says my oral health is excellent, and I get compliments on how white my teeth are, that’s a validation,” said Haak.

Dr. Bernice Teplitsky of Wrigleyville Dental practices a holistic approach to dentistry. The Chicago resident said when it comes to research, it’s often difficult to test things like oil pulling.

“I think for some of my patients who have done it, they see a result, and for me that is something that (indicates) maybe it works,” said Teplitsky. “I recommend you check with your dentist to see if oil pulling is OK for you.”

One thing to consider is the strain on your teeth. “I caution patients to let me first take a look at their fillings,” said Teplitsky. “What you are doing is swishing (the oil) around your mouth and actually sucking or forcing it through your teeth. ”

Dr. Tim Stirneman of All Smiles Dental in Algonquin says a focus on oral health is a good think. But he has a more traditional approach.

“The biggest thing to remember is to brush your teeth,” he said.

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