First off, no shade to those creators. As discussed below, there are potential benefits that can come with this method. But is it the best option for mouthwash?
Spoiler alert: The dentists below say no. At the same time, it’s important to note that it’s a cultural practice—not just a social media trend—deserving of respect and context. “Swishing olive oil, also known as oil pulling, is a practice that stems from traditional Ayurvedic medicine, a holistic form of healing that originated in ancient India over 3,000 years ago,” shares Nicole Mackie, DDS, FACP, owner of Dr. Nicole Mackie Dental Implant Specialty Center.
The potential benefits of using olive oil as mouthwash
Advocates of oil pulling claim various potential benefits, such as improved oral hygiene, fresher breath, and a reduction of harmful bacteria in the mouth, Dr. Mackie explains.
Some research, like this 2017 study in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine1, suggests that oil pulling can be helpful—with a caveat. Additionally, according to this 2017 study in the International Journal of Health Sciences2, oil pulling is frequently used in low-income or rural communities access to a dentist’s office or dental products isn't always readily available.
Bear in mind, however: “Overall, the studies are not conclusive, and none recommend it as an alternative to traditional dental hygiene methods, but more of an adjunct,” says Monil Mehta, DMD, dentist at Dentistry on the Ponds. So, "while there may be some anecdotal benefits to oil pulling," Dr. Mackie says, "it should be considered as a supplementary practice rather than a substitute for proven oral hygiene routines.”
Why mouthwash is the best option
While you’re more than welcome to implement both practices, dentists just urge you to not neglect mouthwash in the process. (And on that note, dentists are also begging you to not swish mouthwash straight from the bottle, FYI.) The benefits are just too important.
“Mouthwash is a liquid compound specifically formulated to help kill bacteria, freshen breath, reduce plaque, and treat gingivitis [gum disease] when used as directed,” Dr. Mackie says. “Many commercial mouthwashes also contain fluoride, which helps strengthen tooth enamel and prevent tooth decay.”
Olive oil, on the other hand, simply doesn’t have substantial, conclusive research that's comparable to the proven benefits of using mouthwash, she adds.
Dr. Mehta agrees, adding that olive oil may even bring more problems. “Olive oil may have additives or other contaminants that may even actually contribute to cavities if not properly brushed off, or create a false sense of adequate home care that may make people neglect developmental dental conditions,” he says.
Further, mouthwash is an easier choice from a convenience and efficiency standpoint. “You get the best results from oil pulling if you keep it in your mouth for 20 minutes, while mouthwash is effective when it is used for 30 to 60 seconds,” adds Irina Kessler, DDS, a dentist with New York Family Dental Arts.
The mouthwash dentists recommend
So what kind of mouthwash is best? Dr. Mehta recommends the ones with fluoride. “There is ample evidence that these products are safe and effective for daily dental use,” he says.
Dr. Kessler votes for an alcohol-free mouthwash, noting she likes the TheraBreath brand in particular.
Meanwhile, Dr. Mackie suggests getting more individualized. “As a dental professional, I strongly recommend choosing a mouthwash based on your individual oral needs and goals.”
For example, she says antiseptic mouthwashes are best for people who have gum disease or a higher risk of dental infections. Fluoride mouthwashes, on the other hand, are beneficial if you tend to get cavities often. If you have sensitive gums or dry mouth, try an alcohol-free mouthwash. Lastly, a whitening mouthwash may be the way to go if your main concern is a brighter, stain-free smile, according to Dr. Mackie.
If you want to add olive oil swishing on top of that, you can. “All of these newer and/or ancient treatments of your teeth and gums are good adjunct to traditional care,” Dr. Kessler summarizes. AKA, mouthwash first and foremost (after brushing and flossing, of course).
- Shanbhag, Vagish Kumar L. “Oil pulling for maintaining oral hygiene – A review.” Journal of traditional and complementary medicine vol. 7,1 106-109. 6 Jun. 2016, doi:10.1016/j.jtcme.2016.05.004
- Naseem, Mustafa et al. “Oil pulling and importance of traditional medicine in oral health maintenance.” International journal of health sciences vol. 11,4 (2017): 65-70.
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