What the Heck Is Oil Pulling? And Is It Totally Pointless?



If you are an avid oil-pulling enthusiast, I’ve got some bad news for you: All those hours you’ve spent swishing oil around your mouth have been completely and entirely pointless. According to The Atlantic, that is.

If you’re thinking, “Um, what the heck is oil-pulling?!” let me explain: Oil pulling is an ancient Ayurvedic practice in which adherents swish oil, usually of the coconut or sesame variety, around in their mouths for 10 to 20 minutes each day. Sounds … unpleasant, right? But people don’t do it for fun: Oil pulling is said to whiten teeth, pull toxins from the body, cure hangovers and, basically, work wonders for the body as a whole.

While the practice has been around for ages, it’s recently achieved full-blown fad-status in the health-and-fitness world. I haven’t gone a single day in the past three weeks without hearing or reading the term “oil pulling.” Bizarre, considering just a month ago, I’d never even heard of it. Divergent star and professed health-nut Shailene Woodley even raved about oil pulling to the popular beauty blog Into The Gloss, claiming, “It’s amazing! It really makes your teeth whiter, because the plaque on your teeth is not water-soluble, it’s fat-soluble.”

But despite oil pulling’s beurgoning popularity and celebrity endorsements, some folks just aren’t buying it.

In a piece published yesterday, The Atlantic consulted UPenn’s School of Dental Medicine professor, Robert J. Collins, who basically told the magazine that oil pulling is a bunch of BS. First, he shut down Woodley’s claim, saying there’s no evidence to suggest that plaque is fat-soluble and, “Even if it was, it doesn’t mean that [oil pulling] would disrupt the plaque.”

He went on to say:

“From a public health point of view, we certainly do not want to encourage people to use things that, while they may be harmless, we have no evidence they work. It’s kind of like chiropractic. If somebody feels that they can go to the chiropractor, get a back adjustment, and it makes them feel better, I’m okay with that. If people start selling chiropractic as a mechanism to cure cancer, then I have a problem with that.”

And as for oil pulling’s ability to remove toxins from the body, well … : “We have these magic organs called kidneys and livers and [detoxifying] is what they do. We don’t necessarily need to be swishing things around in our mouths.”

So I think it’s safe to say: Professor Collins is not a big believer in natural medicine. But what do you guys think? Are these arguments enough to make all you oil-pulling devotees out there ditch your daily habit, or will you continue with your oil-swishing ways? Sound off in the comments section below.

Like what you’re reading? Stay in touch with Be Well Philly—here’s how: