Let me begin by telling you that words like 'natural' and 'home remedy' always grab my attention. This makes my fascination for Ayurveda perfectly understandable. The Ayurvedic science of medicine dates back to 5000 years with roots in India and is based on the concept of holistic healing. And so, when someone suggested oil pulling for whiter teeth, detoxification and curing cold, I wasn't surprised but eager to know more.
For those unfamiliar with oil pulling, it involves swishing a kind of edible oil in your mouth for a couple of minutes and then spitting it out. This ancient cleansing method is known to remove bacteria and microorganisms and in the process helps in detoxifying your body's lymph nodes and glands.
"Oil pulling is a part of the Ayurvedic dental care regime that includes several other practices. The dincharya or everyday routine starts with using Datun from the tree bark to clean your teeth similar to brushing, followed by Jivaha Nirlekhan which means cleaning your tongue, then oil pulling and finally Dhumpan in which the gum from herbal plants like Guggulu and Shirish is burnt and the steam is inhaled for internal purification. In traditional Ayurveda, these were used to treat the imbalance of various doshas," explains Dr. Ashutosh Gautam, Clinical Operations and Coordination Manager at Baidyanath.
In Ayurvedic practice, oil pulling can be performed in two ways. Ghandusha is where you keep the oil in your mouth for two to three minutes and then you spit it out. In the other method called Kaval Graha, the oil is gently revolved around in the mouth for 15 to 20 minutes till it becomes thin and whitish in colour and then expelled. The teeth, gums and tongue are rinsed with salt water. This can be followed by brushing and flossing as you normally would. The oil is never swallowed. The best time to perform it is in the morning before breakfast. It is to be practiced an empty stomach, one to three times in a day.
"The oil in kept in mouth till you start sweating slightly which is a sign of toxins being released from your body. You may also experience watery eyes and some discharge from the nose as your mouth and throat are being cleansed. Usually, sesame oil and mustard oil is used about 15 to 25 ml in quantity or according to how much you can hold. Both these oils are regarded as anti-viral, anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial agents. Sometimes, a pinch of salt or turmeric may be added which acts as an antiseptic. You can also make a decoction by boiling mulethi and then using it instead of oil," adds Dr. Gautam.
The first time I greased my mouth, it triggered a gag reflex but I have to admit that my teeth felt polished through the day. While sesame oil doesn't have much of a taste, mustard is quite pungent. These oils have mild abrasive powers and are healthier than others. You'll take some time to get used to the taste and texture of the oil so start with as long as you can keep it in your mouth.
The oil acts as natural mouthwash or disinfectant and helps in removing stains, smoothening and cleaning your teeth. It strengthens your gums and teeth and makes it easier to remove plaque. Plaque is made up of colonized bacteria that are surrounded by fatty membranes. They are fat-soluble and may loosen up while swishing around the oil. Dentists recommend the physical removal of plague by brushing. In Ayurvedic practice, when you chew on Datun it releases fibers from the bark that lift away the bacteria. Oil pulling may assist in removing plaque when combined with brushing or using Datun which accounts for whiter teeth.
According to a group of Irish scientists from the Athlone Institute of Technology, coconut oil was found to prevent Streptococcus mutans, an acid-producing bacteria found in the mouth and is majorly responsible for causing tooth decay. This can be attributed to the fact that coconut oil is a good source of Vitamin E which is a powerful antioxidant along with lauric acid and monolaurin that lend anti-bacterial properties.
But for all the hype, doctors are not entirely convinced about oil pulling as a treatment for dental diseases. "Oil pulling may help in reducing the symptoms of a dental disease but it cannot be effective in curing it. For instance, our grandmothers used a mix of mustard oil and salt to stop gum bleeding. In this light, oil pulling may reduce gum inflammation and control bleeding to some extent. Even in allopathic medicine, we use certain powders and pastes to treat the same. But it shouldn't be replaced with brushing and flossing," says Dr. Jatin Ahuja, Orthodontist at Max Medcentre in New Delhi.
Talking about granny's remedies, oil pulling has long been used to cure cold and sore throat. By dissolving all the toxins and bacteria, it helps in clearing blocked nasal passages and increases immunity. In his book "Oil Pulling Therapy: Detoxifying and Healing the Body through Oral Cleansing", Dr Bruce Fife suggests that this therapy can heal sinus problems by clearing the mucous from the throat. The drainage of mucous is one of the best ways to remove toxins from the body. In his view, "Our mouth is a reflection of our inner health and poor dental health has been linked to many chronic diseases."
Modern day followers of Ayurveda also claim that these gargles have many beauty benefits. They can strengthen jaws, reduce face flabbiness and improve skin. For instance, acne may be caused due to the imbalance in the gut bacteria and since your mouth is a gateway for all foreign to enter your body, oil rinsing attacks the bad bacteria before it reaches other parts. This unorthodox ritual may not be a remedy but it makes sense as a preventive measure.
Sometimes the first sign of a disease may show up in the mouth and in other cases infections in the mouth can affect different parts of the body. Dr. Fedor Karach from Ukraine has used oil pulling in his medical practice and presented a paper claiming that the simple treatment of oil pulling can resolve various illnesses like hormonal problems, heart-related diseases and digestive ailments His research brought back to light the folk remedy of oil pulling for wellness and vitality. However, scientific evidence limits the benefits of oil pulling in killing some forms of bacteria like those associated with bad breath and gingivitis.
Dental and skin problems are stubborn and there's a certain desperation that comes along with treating it. Who doesn't want the perfect skin and a bright smile? While we can all agree on swishing for oral health, you may often have to rely on your doctor's advice. But if this easy, all-natural alternative can come handy then what do you have to lose.