Sesame Oil Massage and Pulling Fights Gum Disease
Most of the dental health industry today encourage us to soak our teeth and gums in harsh chemicals in order to improve our gum health and fight off dental caries. But research finds that oil pulling and massage with sesame oil does a great job at fighting gum disease.
Some of us would prefer not to pour chemicals into our mouths. Even if we try not to swallow the chemicals as we brush or gargle with them, they will still find their way into our bodies. The pathways into our bodies include not just down our esophagus into our stomachs: But they will also be absorbed through our mucosal membranes right into the bloodstream.
This is why, for example, many vitamins have been found to be best taken sublingually. Sublingually generally means under the tongue. But certainly whether under the tongue or elsewhere in the oral cavity, these chemicals undoubtedly find their way into our bloodstream and tissues.
Just try reading the back of your toothpaste sometime. Or a bottom of mouthwash. You will find a long list of chemicals. Once you put these in your mouth, they will become absorbed into the body. We might spit a good amount of them out into the sink (where they head for our rivers and streams) but much of them will remain in our bodies, where they can act as free radicals and damage tissues and cells.
Do we have to use these chemicals to prevent cavities and improve our gum health?
Ancient Ayurveda has been preventing gingivitis and periodontal disease with natural oils for thousands of years.
Ayurveda has been recommending oil pulling and gum massage for thousands of years to help prevent gum disease and plaque build up.
Yet the chemical industry is convinced their antibacterial mouthwashes and rinses are the answer. The heck with ‘superstitious’ ancient therapies – they say.
Science proves ancient Ayurvedic gum therapy
Modern medical research is now providing the evidence showing the oldest continuous medicine was not wrong about oil pulling or gum massage.
Illustrating this, researchers from India’s Manipal College of Dental Sciences conducted a triple-blind clinical study of 32 people. They were aged between 18 and 55 years old. The researchers divided the patients into four groups.
The patients were instructed to massage their gums for 10 minutes per day, using their index finger, rubbing each side of the gums within the mouth equally.
One group utilized olive oil to massage their gums each day. Another group massaged their gums using coconut oil. Another group massaged using sesame oil. And a control group massaged their gums using chlorhexidine gel – a typical antiseptic mouth rinse available at most drug stores and often prescribed by dentists.
Prior to the four weeks of therapy, each patient was examined and their relative oral health was scored. These included measuring their colonies of Streptococcus mutans and Lactobacillus bacteria in the mouth and gums. They were also tested for plaque and gingivitis levels. Streptococcus mutans, by the way, are one of the central bacteria species that cause gum disease.
After the four weeks of gum massage therapy, the researchers retested each of the patients for the same measures.
Gum massage with oil reduces bacteria
They found that Streptococcus mutans bacteria counts were significantly reduced among all the groups, but the sesame oil group’s Streptococcus mutans counts were lower. The Streptococcus mutans counts went from from 5.47 (log-10 CFU) to 3.06 – a 2.41 reduction on average.
The olive oil gum massage group experienced a significant (2.21) reduction in Streptococcus mutans while the coconut oil gum massage group had a 2.06 reduction.
In comparison, the chlorhexidine gel massage group had an average of 1.76 reduction in Streptococcus mutans counts.
The sesame group also showed a slightly greater reduction in Lactobacillus counts, with the chlorhexidine group coming in a close second, followed closely by the other two oil groups.
Plaque scores and gingival scores came in very close among all four groups. The differences were insignificant – indicating that massaging with any of the three oils were similar in their ability to significantly reduce signs of plaque and gingivitis.
However, the reductions in plaque scores were slightly greater among the three oil groups – greater than the chlorhexidine group – with the coconut oil group coming out on top.
Plaque and Gingival Indeces
The plaque index consists of a measurement of plaque on the tooth surfaces and plaque on the gum margin – with the lower scores meaning less plaque, graded from zero to three.
The Gingival score relates to levels of inflammation among the gums. A zero is no inflammation, one is mild inflammation but no bleeding, two is moderate inflammation with some redness and bleeding upon probing, and three is severe inflammation with swelling and bleeding when even gently probed.
On the Gingival score, the sesame oil group showed the greatest reduction of scores – with a 1.14 reduction in scores (from 1.85 to .71). By comparison, the chlorhexidine group showed only a .80 reduction – from 1.56 to .76.
What does gum massage do?
Gum massage accomplishes two general things:
1) It disperses the oil – antibacterial agent – throughout the gums and gum margins.
2) It stimulates circulation within gum tissues, which allows the immune system to fight the infection.
Traditional oil massage beats the chemicals
This study proved that gum massage using traditional oils can significantly reduce counts of Streptococcus mutans and other dental decay producing bacteria. It also reduced them better than the gold standard of prescription antiseptic mouth rinses, chlorhexidine.
The second significant result here is that sesame oil – the primary oil recommended in thousands of years of Ayurvedic practice to do both oil pulling and oil massage – beat chlorhexidine in all four measures – bacteria reduction of two types, reduction of plaque and the reduction of signs of gingivitis.
Oils prove to be antibacterial
All three oils were able to significantly reduce bacteria counts, reduce inflammation and plaque among the subjects, as least as good if not better than chlorhexidine. What makes these oils so antiseptic?
In their discussion, the researchers hypothesized that the effect was likely a combination of two mechanisms – one being the oils’ reduce the ability of the bacteria to adhere to the teeth and gum surfaces.
The other effect – which they referred to as saponification – was that alkali hydrolysis occurred within the mouth as the oils were being massaged. This is similar to the process of making soap – which also tends to inhibit bacteria through its alkali emulsification.
Other studies prove oil pulling effectiveness
Another study from India – this from the Meenakshi Ammal Dental College – specifically studied oil pulling with sesame oil, comparing it to swishing with chlorhexidine.
In another triple-blind study, the researchers tested 20 teenage boys. For two weeks, half of the group practiced oil pulling with sesame oil and the other half swished with chlorhexidine.
The boys were tested for S. mutans counts before, after one day, two days, a week and two weeks – at the end.
The researchers continued to find that pulling with sesame oil significantly reduced colony counts of the S. mutans, equivalent to the reductions found with chlorhexidine.
No side effects resulted from oil pulling
While both the oil and the chlorhexidine can significantly reduce bacteria counts of S. mutans – the bacteria most responsible for periodontal disease – chlorhexidine can come with some unwanted side effects, including discoloration of the teeth enamel, a chemical taste in the mouth, and most importantly, the potential of creating resistant strains of bacteria.
Chlorhexidine resistance among bacteria is not a new subject. Several studies have found chlorhexidine-resistant bacteria of varying types among hospital facilities and patients that utilize the disinfectant with soap.
Plus, it is a chemical – and most synthetic chemicals produce oxidative radicals in the body.
Furthermore, chlorhexidine will also wipe out the healthy probiotic species of bacteria in our mouth that help protect our teeth and gums from S. mutans and other destructive bacteria.
After all the good and the bad guys (bacteria) are wiped out, it is usually the more destructive species that emerge the fastest.
Other gum treatments used in Ayurveda
Gum massage and pulling with the above oils are not the only Ayurvedic oral therapy used for centuries.
Ayurveda’s Shalakya Tantra documents the treatment of various oral conditions using different herbal treatments. Various herbal sticks are used to chew on to reduce gum infections and dental caries. These include stems from the Arak plant (Salvadora persica) – which is also sometimes called the Toothbrush tree or Miswak twigs. Other plants used as chewing sticks including the neem tree (Azadirachta indica), the orange tree (Citrus sinensis) and the lime tree (Citrus aurantifolia).
Other plants sometimes used for gum disease in Ayurveda have included the fruit of the Amla plant (Emblic myrobalan), the fruit of the bilberry bush (Vaccinium myrtillus), hawthorn berries (Crateagus oxycanthus) and licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabral). These each improve gum health, improve the gumline and add an antibacterial effect. These have also been used to help stave off tooth loss for the elderly in ancient times.
Singla N, Acharya S, Martena S, Singla R. Effect of oil gum massage therapy on common pathogenic oral microorganisms – A randomized controlled trial. J Indian Soc Periodontol. 2014 Jul;18(4):441-6. doi: 10.4103/0972-124X.138681.
Asokan S, Rathan J, Muthu MS, 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 Mar;26(1):12-7.
Brooks SE, Walczak MA, Hameed R, Coonan P. Chlorhexidine resistance in antibiotic-resistant bacteria isolated from the surfaces of dispensers of soap containing chlorhexidine. Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol. 2002 Nov;23(11):692-5.
Meyer B, Cookson B. Does microbial resistance or adaptation to biocides create a hazard in infection prevention and control? J Hosp Infect. 2010 Nov;76(3):200-5. doi: 10.1016/j.jhin.2010.05.020.
Singh A, Purohit B. Tooth brushing, oil pulling and tissue regeneration: A review of holistic approaches to oral health. J Ayurveda Integr Med. 2011 Apr;2(2):64-8. doi: 10.4103/0975-9476.82525.
Case Adams is a California Naturopath and a Board Certified Alternative Medicine Practitioner with a PhD in Natural Health Sciences, and diplomas in Homeopathy, Aromatherapy, Bach Flower Remedies, Blood Chemistry, Clinical Nutritional Counseling and Colon Hydrotherapy. He has authored 26 books on natural healing strategies.