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Oil swishing craze growing in the U.S.: Does it really make teeth whiter?

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Oil swishing - a practice to whiten teeth - is becoming more popular in the United States and becoming one of the latest trends in dental care. But does this ancient practice really work or are people just wasting time and money? 

In ancient times, people in eastern India swished coconut oils in their mouths to freshen breath and prevent tooth decay and gum disease. This practice is believed to have first developed sometime around  2,500 years ago. The process is also called oil pulling. Although some practitioners swish oil in their mouths for up to 20 minutes, five minutes is more common. 

Proponents of oil swishing claim a wide range of benefits, but there has never been a scientific study of the practice. 

"I don't think the oil has an intrinsic effect other than the removal of plaque. It's hard to find a study that states that. Anything that swishes around for 20 minutes may have some effect, even water," Joseph Banker, a cosmetic dentist in Westfield, New Jersey, told WebMD.

Over the last few months, oil pulling has become a popular topic of conversation among people on the World Wide Web. 

"My mouth seemed quite clean after and my teeth seemed whiter even after just one time. I plan to make this a part of my daily routine each morning," Allison Bennett of Palm City, Florida, who recently tried oil swishing for the first time, told reporters. 

Ayurveda, a system of traditional Indian medicine, was the basis of the idea behind the dental wash. 

"In Ayurveda we oil all the tissues of the body, from head to toe, every day. Studies have shown there can be an antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory action," Marc Halpern, president of the California College of Ayurveda, located in Nevada City, California, was quoted as saying. 

Modern dentists are cautious of the newest craze, until studies are conducted and reviewed. 

"Nearly one-third of all adults in the United States have untreated tooth decay. One in seven adults aged 35 to 44 years has gum disease; this increases to one in every four adults aged 65 years and older. In addition, nearly a quarter of all adults have experienced some facial pain in the past six months," the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated on their Web site. 

Although the practice does not have studies backing up its claims, swishing coconut oil is unlikely to do any harm. Ignoring oral care is usually one of the worst things people can do to their teeth.  

"Anyone who wants to pay attention to their oral hygiene, it's a good thing. But are there other things that they could be doing? Probably," Banker suggested.

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