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A rather odd new health habit seems to be growing in popularity.

But the thing is…it’s not exactly “new.”

Apparently, once upon an ancient time, people used to engage in oil pulling, or oil swishing. Why? To help improve oral health.

Today, people claim that oil swishing can do everything from improve their breath to treat gum disease to whiten their teeth.

Does It Work?

Experts are, for the most part, shrugging their shoulders.

The American Dental Association says that it can’t really comment on a practice that hasn’t really been researched.

But alternative health experts do have some insights on the subject.

“Oil pulling, which goes back 2,500 years, is based on Indian traditional medicine, or Ayurveda,” says Marc Halpern, a chiropractor and president of the California College of Ayurveda. “The practice is based on a core concept of Ayurveda: that oil is nourishing to body tissue. 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.”

But even though Halpern swishes oil, he says that the practice may not do everything some people says it does.

“People have reported all kinds of wonderful results from doing it, but you can’t attribute every result to the practice,” he said. He adds that effects of oil swishing have yet to be scientifically studied.

Are There Any Negative Effects?

Dental experts seem to agree that, for the most part, oil swishing doesn’t seem to be harmful to the mouth. Some dentists even say that regular swishing may help control tooth plaque. Also, Halpern says the only minor issues he’s aware of is that it may cause nausea in some people.

“In cases like this, use oil for just five minutes, not the 20 minutes some recommend, and using less oil if need be.”