She went on to explain that oil pulling is touted as the newest natural way to promote oral health. And people are placing 1 tablespoon of oil (usually coconut) in their mouth and swishing with it for 20 minutes every day to promote whiter teeth and reduce plaque build up. She and I were both skeptical, but I was definitely intrigued, so when I got home I did some research.
I was not able to a lot of evidence in the literature to support this practice. But here is what I found:
Asokan et al. conducted a small randomized control trial with 20 adolescents in 2009. The objective was to determine whether oil pulling with sesame oil was more effective at lowering plaque-induced gingivitis than chlorhexidine-containing mouthwash. Chlorhexidine is an ingredient in a bunch of mouthwashes, so it makes sense that they used it. Results showed reduced plaque and gingivitis in both groups.
The same author published two more articles using the same population of 20 adolescents. The first study sought to determine oil pulling's affect on halitosis in relation to the chlorhexidine mouth wash. They found oil pulling to be equally effective when compared to chlorhexidine in reducing halitosis and organisms associated with it. The article also states that using sesame oil may be more advantageous for the user as it is more cost-effective, will not stain the teeth and does not have an after taste. I am not sure I agree with the after taste part of this.
The second article researched the effect of oil pulling on the number of Streptococcus mutans (S. mutans) - aka bacteria - in plaque and saliva in comparison to chlorhexidine mouthwash. Participants were instructed to swish with the mouthwash or the sesame oil for 10 minutes prior to brushing. Plaque and saliva samples were collected four times over the course of 2 weeks. This study reported a reduction in the number of S. mutans in plaque and saliva in both test groups.
So it seems like oil pulling may be effective with sesame oil, but more studies are definitely needed with larger, more diverse populations. I'd also be curious to see some data on coconut oil since it seems that is what most people are using.
Asokan S, Emmadi P, Chamundeswari R. Effect of oil pulling on plaque induced gingivitis: A randomized, controlled, triple-blind study. Indian J Dent Res 2009;20:47-51
Asokan S, Kumar R S, Emmadi P, Raghuraman R, Sivakumar N. Effect of oil pulling on halitosis and microorganisms causing halitosis: A randomized controlled pilot trial. J Indian Soc Pedod Prev Dent 2011;29:90-4
Asokan S, Rathan J, Muthu M S, Rathna PV, Emmadi P, Raghuraman, Chamundeswari. Effect of oil pulling on Streptococcus mutans count in plaque and saliva using Dentocult SM Strip mutans test: A randomized, controlled, triple-blind study. J Indian Soc Pedod Prev Dent 2008;26:12-7