For a healthy mouth and gums not only brush and floss but also… coconut oil! In fact, coconut oil used to rinse the mouth in the practice called oil pulling helps reduce tooth plaque, bleeding and inflammation of the gums. This is what emerges from a recent scientific research published in the European Journal of Dentistry by an Italian team from the La Sapienza University, Rome (Ripari et al, Eur J Dent, Oct 2020).
Gingivitis, what it is and how to fight it
Gingivitis is a reversible inflammation of the gums caused, generally, by bacterial plaque. Gingivitis can cause gum bleeding, swelling, increased sensitivity to heat and cold and bad breath. To combat gingivitis, a key role is played by oral hygiene, both daily at home and performed by professionals. Among the good hygiene practices we must also include oil pulling.
Oil pulling and the properties of coconut oil
Oil pulling is an Ayurvedic technique that consists in taking a tablespoon of a vegetable oil, such as sesame, sunflower and coconut oils, keeping it in the mouth and rinsing the mouth for at least ten minutes with this oil. Then you spit and do again a quick rinse with warm water. Coconut oil is not used much in the kitchen due to its high quantity of saturated fats, however, the presence of lauric acid is noteworthy. This substance, indeed, is characterized by a powerful antiviral, antifungal but also antibacterial action against a wide range of pathogens, responsible, for example, for gastric ulcers, sinusitis, urinary tract infections and tooth decay. Hence, the scientists tested the effects of coconut oil on oral health.
Twenty volunteers between 18 and 35 years old with mild gingivitis were recruited. The volunteers were divided into two groups. The first group was asked to do mouthwashes for at least five to ten minutes with coconut oil every night after brushing and flossing their teeth. The second group, on the other hand, did not have to perform other actions besides normal daily hygiene. Both before the experiment and after ten and thirty days, the oral health of all study participants was assessed, measuring the amount of plaque, gingival bleeding, observing any presence of gingival recession and tooth mobility. What emerged was that, in the group that had undergone oil pulling, it was possible to record a significant reduction in both the presence of plaque and gingival bleeding, data that indicate a decrease in inflammation of the gums. Not only that, the coconut oil treatment was also shown to reduce bad breath in half of the participants. Finally, no side effects caused by coconut oil were recorded, it did not alter the flavors or cause allergies.
How coconut oil works
The explanation of what has been observed is that coconut oil, thanks to its antioxidant properties, damages the cell walls of bacteria, allowing their inactivation. Not only that, it also seems that the oil, during the practice of oil pulling, forms an oily film on the teeth and gums, reducing the ability of bacteria and plaque to stick. The study is certainly very small, it involved only twenty people, but in any case very interesting. However, as pointed out by the same authors of the study, other research will follow to understand the exact mechanism of action of coconut oil on the gums.