Background: Oil pulling has been used extensively as a traditional Indian folk remedy without scientific proof for many years for strengthening teeth, gums and jaws and to prevent decay, oral malodor, bleeding gums and dryness of throat and cracked lips.
Aim: The aim of this study was to evaluate the antibacterial activity of sesame oil and lignans isolated from sesame oil on oral microorganisms and to check whether saponification or emulsification occurs during oil-pulling therapy.
Materials and methods: The in vitro study was carried out in three different phases: (1) Antibacterial activity of the lignans and sesame oil were tested by minimum inhibitory concentration assay by agar dilution method and agar well diffusion method, respectively. (2) Increase in free fatty acid level of oil and the quantity of sodium hydroxide (NaOH) used up in the titration are good indicators of saponification process. This was assessed using analytical tests for vegetable oils. (3) Swished oil was observed under light microscope to assess the status of the oil, presence of microorganisms, oral debris and foreign bodies.
Results: Sesamin and sesamolin isolated from sesame oil did not have any antibacterial effect against oral microorganisms like Streptococcus mutans, Streptococcus mitis and Streptococcus viridans. Emulsification of sesame oil occurs during oil-pulling therapy. Increased consumption of NaOH in titration is a definite indication of a possible saponification process.
Conclusion: The myth that the effect of oil-pulling therapy on oral health was just a placebo effect has been broken and there are clear indications of possible saponification and emulsification process, which enhances its mechanical cleaning action.