How does Gwyneth Paltrow start off her mornings? Oil pulling.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal earlier this week, the actress and businesswoman revealed she uses a traditional Indian medicine technique to kick off her day, which involves swishing a spoonful of coconut oil around in her mouth for several minutes.
Oil pulling advocates say the practice pulls toxins from the body and helps whiten teeth. But does it really?
Dr. Eric Ascher, a family medicine physician at Lenox Hill Hospital, says oil pulling can help improve dental hygiene by ridding toxins from the mouth.
“Research shows that this can improve oral hygiene – decrease the chance for plaque to build up causing cavities, decreases the chance for gum disease, and destroys the germs that cause bad breath,” he says. “Newer research is pending to confirm if this practice will increase metabolism and heal other cells in the body.”
Paltrow says she uses a “big scoop of minty coconut oil,” and during the 10 minutes of swishing, she does other parts of her routine.
“I love it,” Gwyneth Paltrow told WSJ.
“You do that and then you have a tongue scraper – wow! Your mouth feels super fresh in the morning.”
So should you be doing it too? Ascher says for people who prefer to include natural treatments into their routine, oil pulling could be an option, especially if you struggle with bad breath.
“If you battle with bad breath and have not found a solution that works for you, or you do not like the strong burn from mouthwashes, this may be to your benefit,” he says.
Dr. Joseph Field, a dentist at The Peninsula Center of Cosmetic Dentistry in Los Altos, Calif., says there is limited data on the true benefits of the practice, but “most oral health care professionals agree that when done properly and consistently there can be some improvement to overall gum health.”
“Even if the benefits are minimal it is an easy and inexpensive procedure to add to your daily routine,” he says.
While there’s limited scientific evidence that shows oil pulling helps with teeth whitening, oils like coconut oil do have some natural antibiotic properties, says Dr. Amanda Lewis, a dentist at Contemporary Family Dentistry in Dallas, Texas.
So while it’s “not a bad practice,” she says it’s “totally optional” in your dental hygiene routine and “shouldn’t replace brushing and flossing.”
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This isn’t the first time oil pulling has made waves. The ayurvedic technique dates back more than 1,000 years, but according to Google Trends, oil pulling hit peak popularity in the United States in 2014. Paltrow’s interview, however, prompted renewed interest with searches for oil pulling seeing a spike the following day.
While oil pulling is generally safe, Ascher says it is important to make sure you do not choke on your oil of choice.
“If your jaw hurts, consider switching the type of oil or decreasing the amount of time you are oil pulling,” he adds. “It is also best to spit out the oil, while swallowing small amounts is OK, it is a toxin-filled solution by the end of the practice, so spitting it out is best.”
Lewis says it’s especially important to spit the oil if you’re someone who has high cholesterol or blood pressure issues and therefore shouldn’t expose to large amounts of oil.
“If you think it whitens your teeth or the way it feels, there’s very little harm in doing it daily or a few times per week,” she says. “Use a neutral oil with the least amount of additives, organic if possible.”