Oil Pulling: Pulling Out Stains Or Pulling Your Leg?

Are you looking for more natural ways to whiten your teeth — really whiten, and not just keep clean? If so, and you're thinking of trying oil pulling, it might not have the effect you think it will. Oil pulling is not a new procedure, but it's one of the bigger fads that has many natural-remedy enthusiasts standing by their sinks for 15 to 20 minutes a day. The procedure has been credited with curing a lot of conditions, as well as whitening teeth. But any noticed effects may actually be due to other factors.

What It Is

In oil pulling, you take a small amount of cooking oil and swish it around your mouth like mouthwash, but for 15 to 20 minutes instead of 30 seconds. Supposedly, this oil extracts tons of bacteria from your mouth, bacteria that would otherwise make you totally sick. Along with that bacteria you're supposed to be able to remove stains from your teeth, too.

No Reliable Research

However, there's no research proving this. In an interview with CTV News in Canada, Canadian Dental Association president Dr. Peter Doig said existing studies were not well done. So the work that has been done to see if oil pulling works has been unreliable. Plus, what look like positive results during use might also be misunderstandings. For example, Doig noted that instead of actually making your teeth sparkling white, the oil could just be coating them. So when the light shines on your teeth, they look shinier.

Another factor that could be mistaken for a beneficial effect from the oil is plaque removal due to the simple fact that you've got this slippery liquid moving around your mouth for a long time. Dr. Joseph Banker, a New Jersey dentist, told Health.com that "Anything that swishes around for 20 minutes may have some effect, even water."

Your Dentist Can Help You

Rather than devote 15 minutes a day to swishing around increasingly gross oil in your mouth — you use fresh oil each time, but after 15 minutes of mixing with saliva, it's not the prettiest substance around — talk to your dentist about faster, less gross ways to get your teeth white. These range from whitening strips to in-office treatments. Note that whitening toothpastes aren't always a good bet because they can be abrasive to enamel. If you want to use something like that, ask your dentist about teeth whitening first.