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Health Q&A: Do I Really Need Toothpaste?

Our expert delivers the low-down on whether oil pulling can really protect your teeth from decay.
Sam Kaplan

Oil pulling has caught the wellness community by storm, but many are still confused as to what it is and what it does (or is supposed to do). The practice, rooted in Ayurvedic medicine, has been used by Eastern Asian cultures for years, claiming health benefits such as detoxification, whiter teeth, decreased tooth sensitivity, clearer skin, congestion relief, increased energy, and has even been said to cure diseases of the stomach, intestines, heart, blood, kidney, liver, lungs and female reproductive organs.

But can swishing coconut oil around in your mouth for 20 minutes really do all of that? For answers, we consulted John Comisi, D.D.S., a spokesperson for the Academy of General Dentistry, to find out whether oil pulling is in fact a cure-all or just a curious fad.

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Men’s Fitness: What’s the reasoning behind oil pulling?

John Comisi: From what I’ve observed as a scientist and as a dentist, the science behind what oil pulling does isn’t quite understood from the Western-technology side of things. We know that it’s been done in Eastern Asian cultures for a long time. From what I’ve gathered is that by oil pulling for approximately 20 minutes every day you’re helping to make the oral cavity a better place, according to the proponents of it. I look at it at this capacity—everything that you and I eat essentially creates an acidic mouth, which is an area that bad pathogens and bad bacteria are able to create disease. If you can neutralize the oral cavity you can stop that acidic reaction from occurring.

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What exactly does the oil do?

What the oils do, since they are alkaline in nature, is help to neutralize the oral cavity, therefore they can reduce the potential for cavity development. In most healthy individuals, saliva will do that, but in our world of the U.S. in which we are constantly eating, drinking and sipping on things all day long rather than having three regular meals a day, we always have an acidic environment in the mouth.

The secondary aspect with this is after you have completed the 20 minutes of oil pulling, you have to rinse your mouth out vigorously to get rid of all of the oils that are present and the toxins that were taken out, and then you have to brush your teeth to get rid of the rest of the oil, too. Theoretically it enhances the overall oral hygiene management, so from a dental perspective it’s not a bad thing. All of the other things that it claims to do I don’t have an answer for, and I don’t know if anybody does. [More research still needs to be done].

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Do you recommend that everyone start doing this?

When it comes down to it, if it makes a person feel better and if there is no harm—why not? The key is you have to be very committed to it like any other routine you do. The problem is whether or not an individual is willing to do that every day for the rest of their lives.

Bottom line: you still need to brush and floss your teeth after you oil pull.

What other natural ways can we improve our dental hygiene?

Baking soda is a great neutralizer and is a very mild abrasive. Dip a wet toothbrush into a little cup of regular baking soda (that you can find in your grocery store) and brush your teeth with it. It’s easy and quick. Some problems people have with it include its taste right off the bat--it does become a learned process. Some people put a dab onto their regular toothpaste without any added ingredients. However, lots of folks use the baking soda instead of toothpaste.

Final thoughts?

Basically, if you drink soda all day long you’re going to have cavities. If you’re a tea drinker all day long you’re going to have cavities. If you’re a coffee drinker all day long, or a frequent snacker, you can have more decay because of the sugars and because of the acidity. Your mouth needs to be neutral more times a day than it is acidic. It’s the pH that counts. If once a day an individual wants to do oil pulling, at least during that time period they’re keeping the balance a little bit better in the oral cavity and potentially creating a beneficial situation.

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