Oil Pulling for Teeth Whitening & Bad Breath Tested

Oil Pulling for Teeth Whitening & Bad Breath Tested
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When oil pulling was put to the test for teeth whitening, halitosis, and dental enamel erosion, the results were no better than rinsing with water—or even worse.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

A review of the effects of oil pulling concluded that the ancient practice “may [indeed] have beneficial effects on [oral and] dental health.” I have talked about the benefits for dental health, but oral health too?

Oil pulling was also tested against “oral malodor,” also known as halitosis, or, simply, bad breath. It’s believed a quarter of the world’s population suffers from it. So, they decided to put oil pulling versus chlorhexidine to the test.

How do you test for bad breath, though? There’s all sorts of really fancy methods—”gas chromatography electronic nose[s], diamond probes, dark field microscopy,” but these are really “expensive” or “not very reliable.” So, they decided to go with the “gold standard.” Study subjects were just told to breathe in the researcher’s face.

And then, they wanted to know what the study subjects thought about their own breath. So, they asked them to lick their own wrist and sniff it, then give it a score from zero to extremely foul. And though the subjects themselves thought their licked wrists smelled better after two weeks of oil puling, the researchers disagreed that their breath smelled any better.

But, after three weeks, there was a significant and comparable improvement in breath odor in the oil pulling and chlorhexidine groups. I was excited about this study, because they used an actual placebo—colored water—to presumably match the look of chlorhexidine, and swishing for the same duration. Aha! So, we can finally answer that nagging question about whether oil pulling cuts down on plaque and gingivitis because of the oil, or just because you’re swishing anything in your mouth that long. And, the water worked just as well—the same drop swishing with oil, or just swishing with water, suggesting that the plaque is just disrupted by the extended rinsing action. Yes, oil may be five or six times cheaper than chlorhexidine, and safer, but cheaper and safer than just plain water?

Yeah, but can water whiten teeth? “Numerous websites” offer testimonials of oil pulling whitening teeth, but there were no studies published in the medical literature. And so, most doctors would just give up there. But these two dental professors in Detroit decided to put it to the test. “Teeth were selected from [their} stored collection of human extracted teeth [sounds a little horror movie-ish].” Then, they put them in tubes with coconut oil, sesame oil, and sunflower oil, along with some fake saliva, and vigorously shake them every day for two weeks and found…”no evidence to suggest” that oil pulling has any effect on teeth whitening.

That’s like when another internet darling was put to the test—strawberries and baking soda, which was evidently featured on Dr. Oz. Over-the-counter whitening strips worked; a home whitening system works, where the dentist sends you home with custom trays; and in-office tooth whitening works. But the DIY strawberry-baking soda mixture failed—as bad as just plain water, used as a control.

What about dental erosion? In my video on plant-based diets and dental health, I talked about how those eating healthier may have healthier gums. But, because they tend to eat more acidic foods, like citrus, and tomatoes, and fruity teas, they may be at more risk for eroding off some of their enamel, which is why we should rinse our mouth with water after eating or drinking anything acidic (anything sour).

But what about rinsing with oil every morning? The way our body protects our teeth from erosion is by forming a “pellicle” over our teeth—a protective layer, of mostly proteins from our saliva, but some fat, too. So, hey, might oil pulling help “prevent erosive damage” to our tooth surfaces by kind of buttressing this protective layer? You don’t know, until you put it to the test.

Now, they wanted to put the teeth under a microscope afterwards, and that’s hard to do when they’re still in people’s heads. So, they put “slabs” of cattle teeth in their mouth, let them sit there until that protective layer developed, and then, oil pulled around the teeth—or not, in the control group, and then took them out, and exposed them to acid.

If you expose the teeth to acid without putting them in your mouth, within two minutes—120 seconds—significant demineralization takes place. Calcium is dissolved out of the teeth by the acid. But, just let those same teeth roll around in your mouth for a few minutes, and then expose them to acid, there’s less erosion.

Okay, but then, what happens if you put them in your mouth and do some oil pulling? Is there even less erosion? No, there’s more. It’s as if the oil pulling undermined the protective layer. And, that’s exactly what they saw under the microscope. Here’s what that protective layer looks like before the oil pulling, and then after. They suspect the oil may actually be depleting the protective layer of some of its protection.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Icons created by Vladimir Belochkin, Mello and Gan Khoon Lay from The Noun Project

Image credit: Marissa Anderson. Image has been modified.

Motion graphics by Avocado Video

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

A review of the effects of oil pulling concluded that the ancient practice “may [indeed] have beneficial effects on [oral and] dental health.” I have talked about the benefits for dental health, but oral health too?

Oil pulling was also tested against “oral malodor,” also known as halitosis, or, simply, bad breath. It’s believed a quarter of the world’s population suffers from it. So, they decided to put oil pulling versus chlorhexidine to the test.

How do you test for bad breath, though? There’s all sorts of really fancy methods—”gas chromatography electronic nose[s], diamond probes, dark field microscopy,” but these are really “expensive” or “not very reliable.” So, they decided to go with the “gold standard.” Study subjects were just told to breathe in the researcher’s face.

And then, they wanted to know what the study subjects thought about their own breath. So, they asked them to lick their own wrist and sniff it, then give it a score from zero to extremely foul. And though the subjects themselves thought their licked wrists smelled better after two weeks of oil puling, the researchers disagreed that their breath smelled any better.

But, after three weeks, there was a significant and comparable improvement in breath odor in the oil pulling and chlorhexidine groups. I was excited about this study, because they used an actual placebo—colored water—to presumably match the look of chlorhexidine, and swishing for the same duration. Aha! So, we can finally answer that nagging question about whether oil pulling cuts down on plaque and gingivitis because of the oil, or just because you’re swishing anything in your mouth that long. And, the water worked just as well—the same drop swishing with oil, or just swishing with water, suggesting that the plaque is just disrupted by the extended rinsing action. Yes, oil may be five or six times cheaper than chlorhexidine, and safer, but cheaper and safer than just plain water?

Yeah, but can water whiten teeth? “Numerous websites” offer testimonials of oil pulling whitening teeth, but there were no studies published in the medical literature. And so, most doctors would just give up there. But these two dental professors in Detroit decided to put it to the test. “Teeth were selected from [their} stored collection of human extracted teeth [sounds a little horror movie-ish].” Then, they put them in tubes with coconut oil, sesame oil, and sunflower oil, along with some fake saliva, and vigorously shake them every day for two weeks and found…”no evidence to suggest” that oil pulling has any effect on teeth whitening.

That’s like when another internet darling was put to the test—strawberries and baking soda, which was evidently featured on Dr. Oz. Over-the-counter whitening strips worked; a home whitening system works, where the dentist sends you home with custom trays; and in-office tooth whitening works. But the DIY strawberry-baking soda mixture failed—as bad as just plain water, used as a control.

What about dental erosion? In my video on plant-based diets and dental health, I talked about how those eating healthier may have healthier gums. But, because they tend to eat more acidic foods, like citrus, and tomatoes, and fruity teas, they may be at more risk for eroding off some of their enamel, which is why we should rinse our mouth with water after eating or drinking anything acidic (anything sour).

But what about rinsing with oil every morning? The way our body protects our teeth from erosion is by forming a “pellicle” over our teeth—a protective layer, of mostly proteins from our saliva, but some fat, too. So, hey, might oil pulling help “prevent erosive damage” to our tooth surfaces by kind of buttressing this protective layer? You don’t know, until you put it to the test.

Now, they wanted to put the teeth under a microscope afterwards, and that’s hard to do when they’re still in people’s heads. So, they put “slabs” of cattle teeth in their mouth, let them sit there until that protective layer developed, and then, oil pulled around the teeth—or not, in the control group, and then took them out, and exposed them to acid.

If you expose the teeth to acid without putting them in your mouth, within two minutes—120 seconds—significant demineralization takes place. Calcium is dissolved out of the teeth by the acid. But, just let those same teeth roll around in your mouth for a few minutes, and then expose them to acid, there’s less erosion.

Okay, but then, what happens if you put them in your mouth and do some oil pulling? Is there even less erosion? No, there’s more. It’s as if the oil pulling undermined the protective layer. And, that’s exactly what they saw under the microscope. Here’s what that protective layer looks like before the oil pulling, and then after. They suspect the oil may actually be depleting the protective layer of some of its protection.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Icons created by Vladimir Belochkin, Mello and Gan Khoon Lay from The Noun Project

Image credit: Marissa Anderson. Image has been modified.

Motion graphics by Avocado Video

Doctor's Note

This is the third in a four-part series on oil pulling. If you missed the first two, see Does Oil Pulling Help with Cancer? and Oil Pulling Benefits for Plaque and Gingivitis.

For the final video of this series and the final nail in the coffin of oil pulling, see The Risks of Oil Pulling.

How can we protect our enamel? Check out:

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