Oil-Pulling

For many Sjögren’s sufferers, severe dry mouth can be one of the hardest things to deal with on a day-to-day basis. Prosthodontist, Dr. Leslie Laing, BSc, B.Ed, MS., PhD (Microbiology and Immunology), DDS., MSc. (Prosthodontics), FRCD(C), describes her research on the question of whether oil-pulling is useful in severe dry mouth!

Oil-pulling is a 3,000 to 5,000 year old Ayurvedic technique often involving virgin coconut oil (VCO) or other oils such as sesame or safflower.  The original technique was to swish the oil around the mouth for 15-20 minutes first thing in the morning on an empty stomach.  This was supposed to alleviate oral decay, bad breath, oral ulcers, yeast infections, etc.  On a whim, I though I might try it thinking that it might be a way of moisturizing the mouth particularly for Sjögren’s patients.

Saliva was collected over a 10-minute period and cultured to determine baseline levels of the typical oral decay-causing bacteria Strep. mutans and Lactobacilli sp., and oral yeast Candida.  Patients were then instructed to take 1 tsp (5ml) VCO, let it melt in the mouth, then “pull and push” (i.e. swish) it through the teeth and around the mouth for 1-2 minutes (originally 15 min but we later determined that 1-2 minutes were sufficient).

Participants were instructed NOT to swallow but to spit it out into either a tissue or discard container and NOT down the sink since it may clog the drain.  Participants followed this by a warm water rinse around the mouth then their normal oral hygiene routine.  Three weeks later saliva samples were collected again and cultured.  In the vast majority of cases the levels of Strep. mutans and Candida had decreased by 10- to 100-fold.

Participants made such comments that as “my gums don’t bleed when I floss now”, “my teeth seem brighter”, “my breath seems fresher”, “my taste has returned”, “I don’t have that yeast smell anymore”, “my energy levels seem higher”, “my sinuses aren’t as blocked”, “the lining of my cheeks seems more velvety”, “canker sores either have disappeared, heal faster, or have not arisen”, etc.

Initial results using other oils such as olive, sunflower, sesame, and glycerine have not been as effective.  There was no evidence, however, that the oil-pulling technique had any effect on saliva flow rate.  We are currently pursuing studies of the mechanisms behind the oil-pulling technique and the binding sites of the VCO and its components.

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