Oil Pulling for Cognitive Health

by Amylee Amos MS, RDN

Oral health and cognitive health are intricately connected. I’ll wait a moment for you to read that sentence again. It seems crazy, but the health of our teeth, gums, and oral cavity have a direct influence on the health of our brain. This is all rather new knowledge and personally, I find it incredible. It fully supports the systems biology, whole body approach to wellness. Everything in the body is connected- we need to take care of ourselves in every capacity in order to achieve optimal wellness. But the brain and oral connection is quite profound.

Infection leads to inflammation. This is how the body heals itself. We once thought that infections in the mouth were localized to the one area, and as such, so was the inflammation. But what’s happening is that the peripheral inflammation is directly influencing central inflammatory status, or the inflammatory status of the brain (1).  So when we have poor oral care, we in fact have poor brain care- a huge issue if you’re looking to reverse or prevent Alzheimer’s disease! In fact, studies that have looked at the brains of Alzheimer’s patients during autopsies have actually found oral pathogens present in brain tissue (2). This indicates that oral microbes can travel up into the brain and contribute to the production of beta amyloid.

All of this suggests that we need to take very good care of our mouth, teeth, and gums. So, what’s a person to do beyond the basic brushing and flossing? Actually there’s a lot of other things that can be done to optimize oral health. For one, you can start with oil pulling.

What is Oil Pulling?

Oil pulling is an ancient Ayurvedic practice of swishing or pulling oil through teeth and around the mouth for an extended period of time before spitting the oil out. It has been used for centuries as a method of promoting oral health with absolutely no evidence based research to back it up. It has been used traditionally to prevent tooth decay, ameliorate bleeding gums, reduce bad breath, and generally strengthen teeth and gums. Only recently have scientists begun to investigate the efficacy of oil pulling in clinical trials. And guess what? The evidence shows that oil pulling really does work! (Another example of ancient healers knowing so much more than we do about health and medicine).

Studies have compared oil pulling to the standard of care treatment, medicated mouthwash Chlorhexidine, for reducing oral bacteria. In clinical trials, oil pulling proved equally efficacious in reducing oral pathogenic bacteria as Chlorhexidine (3). This is outstanding when you consider the potential adverse reactions that can occur with medicated mouthwash, least of which is disrupting the healthy bacteria in the oral cavity. Oil pulling has no such negative side effects and the exact same positive outcome- though it should be noted that the oil pulling takes longer to show a significant effect (oil pulling demonstrated a reduction of pathogenic bacteria in one week, whereas Chlorhexidine showed a reduction as early as 24 hours after start of treatment). Oil pulling has been shown to have other benefits for oral health like reducing plaque and halitosis, and is a helpful technique for general oral care management (4).

How to Practice Oil Pulling:

Traditionally, oil pulling is done before brushing your teeth. It is the act of swishing about 1-2 teaspoons of oil (usually sesame or coconut) for up to 20 minutes. As with everything, use an organic oil to avoid pesticide exposure. Pull and swish the oil through the teeth and around the gums. After pulling the oil for the recommended time, spit the oil out, making sure to avoid swallowing any oil. Depending on your household drainage system, oil can clog sink pipes, so discard into the trash if necessary.

After oil pulling, brush and floss your teeth as usual.

What’s the Takeaway?

Oil pulling can be an effective addition to your current oral care routine. It can help reduce pathogenic bacteria in your mouth, and improve the overall health of your teeth and gums, making it less likely that bad bacteria from your mouth make their way up to your brain.

However, it’s extremely important to avoid swallowing or aspirating any of the oil, which can cause serious complications. Check with your dentist and/or doctor before starting am oil pulling regimen to make sure that it is safe for you to do. Above all, keep your oral health in check- your brain depends on it!

References:

  1. Kramer, A.R., Craig, R.G., Dasanayake, A.P., Brys, M., Glodzik-Sobanska, L. & de Leon, M.J. (2008). Inflammation and Alzheimer’s Disease: the Possible Role of Periodontal Diseases. Alzheimer’s & Dementia, 4(4): 242-250.
  2. Riviere, G.R., Riviere, K.H., & Smith, K.S. (2002). Molecular and Immunological Evidence of Oral Treponema in the Human Brain and their Association with Alzheimer’s Disease. Molecular Oral Microbiology, 17(2): 113-118.
  3. Asokan, S., Rathan, J., Muthu, M.S., Rathna, P.V., Emmadi, P., et al. (2008). 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. 26(1):12-7.
  4. Lakshmi, T., Rajendran, R., & Krishna, V. (2013). Perspectives of oil pulling therapy in dental practice. Perspective, 4(4): 131-134.