The Ancient Wisdom and Science Behind Using Oil Pulling & Essential Oils for Dental Health
Ok, mom, I’m publicly proclaiming that, “You were right!”
My mother was on the mark about our essential oils being a key to our family health over 13 years ago. More recently, she was also correct to stay with her oil pulling for dental hygiene, in spite of my questioning eyes.
I jumped on to PubMed for vindication of her ancient practice and found some supportive documentation of her latest oral routine. I also came across an article on Green Med Info that further reinforced mom’s insane ability to intuitively know what works.
She’s got a science orientation too, don’t get me wrong! However, we make a great team because she finds what works and then I go “nuts into the research” in order to verify her “intuitive hits.”
So, this blog is dedicated to all of you who also “trust your guts” and unify it with the sound, evidence-based science of natural and holistic medicine.
I hope you enjoy it!
Topic One: Why swishing and spitting oil makes a mouth happy.
Topic Two: Don’t just spit and be done! Why essential oils complement a healthy dental hygiene plan.
The Science of the Oil Pull, Swish, Spit, Repeat…
According to the article I found on Green Med Info:
A new study has proven for the first time that the oral use of coconut oil is effective in reducing plaque related to gingivitis, a common form of inflammation in the gum tissue of the mouth that occurs in response to bacterial biofilms (known as plaque) adhering to the surfaces of the teeth and which can lead to more serious oral condition known as periodontal disease.1
This study revisited the ancient practice of oil pulling and swishing therapy using sesame or sunflower oil; however, the authors assessed if coconut oil had a therapeutic effect on dental health using the same method. According to the researchers:
Oil pulling or oil swishing therapy is a traditional procedure in which the practitioners rinse or swish oil in their mouth. It is supposed to cure oral and systemic diseases but the evidence is minimal. Oil pulling with sesame oil and sunflower oil was found to reduce plaque related gingivitis. Coconut oil is an easily available edible oil. It is unique because it contains predominantly medium chain fatty acids of which 45-50 percent is lauric acid. Lauric acid has proven anti inflammatory and antimicrobial effects. No studies have been done on the benefits of oil pulling using coconut oil to date. So a pilot study was planned to assess the effect of coconut oil pulling on plaque induced gingivitis.
The participants consisted of 60 age matched adolescent boys and girls in the age-group of 16-18 years. All subjects were inflicted with plaque induced gingivitis and were assigned an oral hygiene routine of oil pulling for 30 days. The researchers assessed baseline plaque and gingival indices of the teenagers on days 1,7,15 and 30. What did they find?
“A statistically significant decrease in the plaque and gingival indices was noticed from day 7 and the scores continued to decrease during the period of study.”
They concluded, “Oil pulling using coconut oil could be an effective adjuvant procedure in decreasing plaque formation and plaque induced gingivitis.”
An in vitro study which was carried out in three different phases assessed:
- The lignans in sesame oil for activity against bacteria.
- Indicators of the saponification process (increase in free fatty acid level of the oil and quantity of sodium hydroxide).
- The status of the swished oil for presence of microbes, oral debris, and foreign bodies.
There was no direct antibacterial effect but there was an indication of possible saponification process and the resultant effect of “mechanical cleansing.”3
1. Twenty age-matched adolescent boys were divided randomly into two groups comparing chlorhexidine mouth wash (control group) to oil pulling (study group). In assessing the plaque and saliva samples following the 2-week intervention, the results were reported as follows:
There was a reduction in the S. mutans count in the plaque and saliva samples of both the study and the control groups. The reduction in the S. mutans count in the plaque of the study group was statistically significant after 1 and 2 weeks (P = 0.01 and P = 0.008, respectively); the control group showed significant reduction at all the four time points (P = 0.01, P = 0.04, P = 0.005, and P = 0.005, respectively, at 24 h, 48 h, 1 week, and 2 weeks). In the saliva samples, significant reduction in S. mutans count was seen in the control group at 48 h, 1 week, and 2 weeks (P = 0.02, P = 0.02, P = 0.008, respectively).
Conclusion: Oil pulling can be used as an effective preventive adjunct in maintaining and improving oral health.
2. Another small study reported on the benefit of oil pulling in eradicating the microbes that account for morning breath, “Oil pulling therapy has been equally effective like chlorhexidine on halitosis and organisms, associated with halitosis.”5
3. Twenty age-matched adolescent boys suffering from plaque-induced gingivitis were divided into an oil pulling group and a chlorhexidine group for 10 days. The researchers found, “a statistically significant reduction of the pre- and post-values of the plaque and modified gingival index scores in both the study and control groups ( P < 0.001 in both). There was a considerable reduction in the total colony count of aerobic microorganisms present in both the groups.”
The researchers concluded that, “oil pulling therapy showed a reduction in the plaque index, modified gingival scores, and total colony count of aerobic microorganisms in the plaque of adolescents with plaque-induced gingivitis.”6
Summary of Oil Pulling
As one review article stated, “Scientific validations of the Ayurveda dental health practices could justify their incorporation into modern dental care. Publicity of these techniques using appropriate media would benefit the general population by giving more confidence in the ancient practices, thus preventing tooth decay and loss.” 7
Essential Oils and Mouth Health
Holy moly! There is no lack of studies in vitro and in human trials on essential oils and dental health. Here are some excerpts from studies:
1. “Thirty chronic periodontitis patients were randomly assigned to 3 groups: control, saline, and essential oil (EO)-containing antiseptic…”
It was concluded that, “The adjunctive use of EO may be effective in reducing subgingival bacterial counts in both shallow and deep pockets.” 8
2. A two-step, cross-sectional study of 504 students (14-18 years old) were examined for halitosis (bad breathe) for step one of the trial. In the second step, 84 “bad breath winners” were selected and divided into a peppermint mouth rinse group and a placebo group.
The authors reported peppermint was effective against smelly breath:
“prevalence of halitosis was 24.4% totally. In the mouth rinse group, after 1 week 23 students didn’t exhibit halitosis, and 11 students in the placebo group were halitosis positive. A chi-square test showed that this difference was significant.”9
3. This study included 73 adult volunteers and aimed to determine whether the natural herb clove could replace benzocaine as a topical anesthetic across four conditions (homemade clove gel, benzocaine 20% gel, a placebo clove gel, and a placebo benzocaine gel.)
The researchers concluded:
“Both clove and benzocaine gels had significantly lower mean pain scores than placebos (p=0.005). No significant difference was observed between clove and benzocaine regarding pain scores…
“Clove gel might possess a potential to replace benzocaine as a topical agent before needle insertion.” 10
In Vitro Essential Oil Studies
Below are several excerpts from journal articles on essential oils applications in oral health in vitro.
1. A 2008 study reported on the use of peppermint and rosemary versus chlorhexidine against Streptococcus mutans and Streptococcus pyogenes. The authors stated:
“In vitro biofilm inhibitory properties were in the order M. piperita > R. officinalis > chlorhexidine. In vivo experiments on the antibiofilm properties revealed that all concentrations of the oils were significantly (p < 0.001) more effective than chlorhexidine. In conclusion, essential oils may be considered as safe agents in the development of novel antibiofilm agents.” 11
2. “A comparative study was carried out between cinnamon oil and clove oil on the oral micro-biota causing dental caries. Cinnamon oil was found to be more effective than clove oil exhibiting broad spectrum of antibacterial activity inhibiting all the ten test bacterial species involved in dental caries. Cinnamon oil produced maximum inhibition zone of diameter (IZD) of 24.0 mm against Streptococcus mutans (major causative bacteria of dental plaque) as compared to clove oil (IZD = 13.0mm). This is contrary to the popular belief that clove oil is effective in tooth decay and dental plaque. This study shows the potential of cinnamon oil over clove oil in the treatment of dental caries.” 12
3. “In this study, clove oil and its major compounds, eugenol and ?-caryophyllene were evaluated against oral bacteria, either alone or in combination with ampicillin or gentamicin, via checkerboard and time kill assay…
“The results suggest that the clove oil and eugenol could be employed as a natural antibacterial agent against cariogenic and periodontopathogenic bacteria.” 13
4. “This study was aimed to find out the minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC) of five essential oils against oral pathogens and to find out the minimum bactericidal concentration (MBC) and minimum fungicidal concentration (MFC) of five essential oils against oral pathogens…
“Peppermint, tea tree and thyme oil can act as an effective intracanal antiseptic solution against oral pathogens.” 14
5. A study sought to determine if clove essential oil (CEO) could protect against dental erosion or decalcification of enamel from acidic apple juice.
“It was observed that the CEO and its two lead molecules inhibit the decalcification and/or promote the remineralization caused by the apple juices. The effect of the test compounds appears to be distinct like that of fluoride treatment. CEO may, therefore, serve to be a promising adjunct to fluoride in the treatment of root caries during minimally invasive therapy.” 15
Summary of Essential Oils’ Role In Dental Health
Here’s an excerpt from review article on five uses of essential oils in dentistry:
- Oral hygiene adjunct – Essential oil rinses are found to be equally effective in inhibiting plaque. A study carried out by Pizzo et al. on plaque inhibitory effect of amine fluoride/stannous fluoride and essential oils showed no significant difference in efficacy of both. As chlorhexidine causes staining of teeth on long term use, essential oils can be used as an alternative to chlorhexidine rinse.4 Essential oils have shown to possess antimicrobial activity against subgingival periopathogens too.5,6 However, a study done on efficacy of essential oil with and without presence of ethanol concluded that essential oils alone are not very effective.7
- Anxiolytic – Aroma of lavender essential oils is capable of altering emotional states and reducing mild anxiety. It has been reported to be useful in reducing anxiety in dental patients when used in waiting area.8,9 It also reduce the pain of needle insertion.10 Use of aromatherapy with natural essential oil of orange has been shown to reduce salivary cortisol and pulse rate due to child anxiety state.11
- Wound dressing – According to the study done by Budzynska et al., better therapeutic effects can be achieved from the wound dressings containing essential oils. Activity was found to be more when stored at 4oC for 7 days.12 Therefore, they can be used to achieve better healing after oral surgical procedures.
- In dental implants – Hence many essential oils have been shown to possess antibiofilm activity. They can be used with dental implants. Treatment of dental implant material surfaces with essential oils has shown to inhibit biofilm production.13
- As preservative – Essentials oils showed higher inhibitory activity against tested microorganism strain than extracts and methylparaben. The study by Herman et al. suggest use of essential oils as substitute of methyl paraben in cosmetic emulsions. Similarly, it can be used to replace methylparaben, which is used as preservative in various dental products, especially in patients allergic to it.14 It can be used in LA allergy, but this requires further clinical trials to detect its efficacy as preservative and whether it can be injected in human body or not; as to the best of our knowledge until now any study has not been done in which essential oils are injected in human body. 16
3 Quick Action Steps for Oral Health
1. Consider oil pulling with coconut or sesame oil.
2. Apply one-two drops of essential oil on your toothbrush or use an essential oil rinse daily.
3. Follow safe and common sense use.
Disclaimer: This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic, Grade A essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and quality and standardized. There is no quality control in the United States and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. Please consult the original study for sources. This article is not specific for any essential oil company or brand.
This information is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime.
- Ji S. Coconut Oil Pulling Superior to Chemicals for Oral Health. April 4, 2015. Green Med Info. http://www.greenmedinfo.com/blog/coconut-oil-pulling-superior-chemicals-oral-health?page=2
- Peedikayil FC, Sreenivasan P, Narayanan A. Effect of coconut oil in plaque related gingivitis – A preliminary report. Niger Med J. 2015 [cited 2015 Apr 5];56:143-7. Available from: http://www.nigeriamedj.com/text.asp?2015/56/2/143/153406
- Asokan S, Rathinasamy T K, Inbamani N, Menon T, Kumar S S, Emmadi P, Raghuraman R. Mechanism of oil-pulling therapy –In vitro study. Indian J Dent Res. 2011;22:34-7
- 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.
- 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, 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
- Singh A, Purohit B. Tooth brushing, oil pulling and tissue regeneration: A review of holistic approaches to oral health. J Ayurveda Integr Med [serial online]. 2011;2:64-8. Available from: http://www.jaim.in/text.asp?2011/2/2/64/82525
- Morozumi T, Kubota T, Abe D, Shimizu T, Nohno K, Y. Yoshie H. Microbiological Effect of Essential Oils in Combination with Subgingival Ultrasonic Instrumentation and Mouth Rinsing in Chronic Periodontitis Patients. International Journal of Dentistry. 2013; 2013:Article ID 146479, 7 pages http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2013/146479
- Haghgoo R, Abbasi F. Evaluation of the use of a peppermint mouth rinse for halitosis by girls studying in Tehran high schools. Journal of International Society of Preventive & Community Dentistry. 2013;3(1):29-31. doi:10.4103/2231-0762.115702.
- Alqareer A, Alyahya A, Andersson L. The effect of clove and benzocaine versus placebo as topical anesthetics. J Dent. 2006 Nov;34(10):747-50. Epub 2006 Mar 13.
- Rasooli I, Shayegh S, Taghizadeh M, Astaneh SD. Phytotherapeutic prevention of dental biofilm formation. Phytother Res. 2008 Sep;22(9):1162-7. doi: 10.1002/ptr.2387.
- Gupta C, Kumari A, Garg AP, Catanzaro R, Marotta F. Comparative study of cinnamon oil and clove oil on some oral microbiota. Acta Biomed. 2011 Dec;82(3):197-9.
- Moon SE, Kim HY, Cha JD. Synergistic effect between clove oil and its major compounds and antibiotics against oral bacteria. Arch Oral Biol. 2011 Sep;56(9):907-16. doi: 10.1016/j.archoralbio.2011.02.005. Epub 2011 Mar 12.
- Thosar N, Basak S, Bahadure RN, Rajurkar M. Antimicrobial efficacy of five essential oils against oral pathogens: An in vitro study. European Journal of Dentistry. 2013;7(Suppl 1):S71-S77. doi:10.4103/1305-7456.119078.
- Marya CM, Satija G, J. A, Nagpal R, Kapoor R, Ahmad A. In Vitro Inhibitory Effect of Clove Essential Oil and Its Two Active Principles on Tooth Decalcification by Apple Juice. International Journal of Dentistry. 2012;2012:759618. doi:10.1155/2012/759618.
- Dagli N, Dagli R. Possible Use of Essential Oils in Dentistry. Journal of International Oral Health?: JIOH. 2014;6(3):i-ii.
Images courtesy istockphoto.com