Oil Pulling for Oral Health

I am oil pulling right now, literally as I type this article. It’s only the third time I have tried it and I am not sure if it is doing anything miraculous yet, but I had to see what all the fuss was about. Oil pulling, in case you haven’t heard, is an ancient Ayurvedic medical treatment that seems to be making quite the modern comeback.

In the past few weeks, I went from never having heard of the practice to hearing about it from two different girlfriends and my husband. One friend said she was going to start doing it to whiten her teeth in anticipation of her upcoming wedding. The other friend swore that after only one week it had totally alleviated her sinus congestion and resulting sleepless nights. Even my husband was all-of-a-sudden chomping at the bit to try it after reading about it in an article on homeopathic headache remedies. That’s when I knew something was up. So what the heck IS oil pulling and how does it supposedly cure all these ailments?

Essentially, oil pulling is the practice of swishing a tablespoon of vegetable oil around inside your mouth for 15–20 minutes and then spitting it out. The point of this seemingly bizarre therapy is to remove toxic and harmful bacteria from the mouth (a reservoir of germs and bacteria), by pulling oil through the teeth. One article I read compared the function of oil pulling to how motor oil functions in a car. Just as motor oil serves to attract and hold all the grimy byproducts of combustion and hold them in suspension until the oil is changed, swishing your mouth with vegetable oil theoretically does the same thing with bacteria. The oil “pulls” the bacteria and germs from between your teeth, capturing them in the oil. It also coats your teeth making it harder for new bacteria to latch on and proliferate.

In particular, sesame oil has been found to be associated with a reduction in the mouth’s overall count of Streptococcus mutans, which is one strain of bacteria that is a significant contributor to tooth decay. When you spit out the oil—preferably in a trashcan unless you want clogged drains—the bacteria and toxins go with it leaving your mouth cleaner and detoxified. The most interesting thing to me was that the benefits could extend beyond preventing cavities and tooth decay.

The bacteria and toxins that reside in our mouth are believed by some medical experts to be the culprits of sinus infections, chronic skin problems, asthma, bad breath, headaches, PMS, fatigue, insomnia, chronic pain, stroke, heart disease, and more. This isn’t exactly news since poor oral hygiene and poor overall health have long been linked to each other, but what is surprising is the increased popularity of oil pulling since there is very, very little scientific research on its purported benefits. These supposedly magical effects include relief from the aforementioned conditions, as well as whiter teeth, cavity prevention, strengthening your teeth and jaw, and even a promotion at work! OK so the last one is obviously a joke, but from the vast and varied testimonials—written by both everyday people and dental professionals—that I read it seems as though there is little that oil pulling can’t do.

But don’t throw away your toothbrush just yet. Oil pulling should be used as a complementary therapy to daily flossing and twice daily brushing with fluoridated toothpaste, not as a substitute. The point is that whether you are oil pulling for 20 minutes or swishing mouthwash for two minutes, the more we take care of our teeth, mouth, and gums, the healthier we will be. And since vegetable oils are pretty inexpensive and there doesn't seem to be any negative effects of holding oil in your mouth and spitting it out, it may be worth a try.

OIL PULLING 101
Sesame, sunflower, or coconut seems to be the most widely recommended. I personally would not use coconut because it is solid at room temperature and that means you have to chew it until it melts in your mouth to its liquid form. I know this because this is what I used the very first time I tried oil pulling. And trust me when I say that having the oil melt in your mouth is not akin to having chocolate or ice cream doing the same—far from it.

Most people advise oil pulling first thing in the morning before eating breakfast. Since this may not be realistic, especially when busy mornings are already jam-packed and often hectic, it can be done at any point throughout the day prior to eating a meal.

Try to swish and swirl for 15–20 minutes and then spit the oil out into a trashcan. Do not swallow the oil! If your jaw gets tired after a few minutes, it means you are probably swishing too fast. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. I recommend setting a timer and finding something to do for those 20 minutes, like browsing the Internet, playing a game on your phone, or watching the news. It passes the time much more quickly.

Afterward, rinse your mouth with warm water and brush your teeth. I prefer to use fluoridated whitening toothpaste, like Crest 3D White Advanced Vivid Stain Protection Toothpaste, to get the most bang for my buck.

The general recommended frequency for oil pulling is daily although some people even swear by doing it up to three times a day. I didn’t think I would be able to find the time or energy to do it once a day, but so far so good. It’s a lot easier than I thought it would be.

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24 Comments
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Kristie D.
Never heard of this before. Sounds interesting. I think I may give it a try.
Lee S.
Thank you for all the good information, it was very helpful! I can't wait to try it now!
Rosenna B.
It does work. Oil pulling leave your teeth feeling clean and is good for your whole mouth.
Audrey U.
As a member of the dental profession, there has been no scientific evidence this works. just brush and floss daily!
Kee J.
There have definitely been studies done. As a public health worker. I would say always do your research before doing anything. Sometimes traditional flossing doesn't work for people. But regular brushing yes. Water flossing can help too! But I highly recommend oil pulling. It's nothing new. But people must be careful before just rushing into it or hopping on the bandwagon. Do what works for you. My family has been doing it for years.
Danice D.
I have never heard of this practice at all, ever until I saw the phrase "oil pulling" in my email. I was instantly intrigued. Not that swishing oil in my mouth for 20 minutes sounds fun in anyway whatsoever, I think I'm a prime candidate considering my health. I have Rheumatoid disease, bleeding gums, and TMJ, although I've always had good oral care and dental checkups throughout my life. I may have to give this a shot- with something other than vegetable oil however! I have sesame, olive, and coconut oils in the pantry now.
celine l.
Great! Which oil should I use though? I would like to try it out.
Danice D.
I have sesame, olive, and coconut oils in the pantry so I think I'll try one a week to see what the results are to try to measure it somehow. Let me know how you do with yours!
Mary B.
I tried the coconut oil for about a month. No results at all. I was hoping it would help my TMJ but it didn't help at all and I did it every day. I like coconut so the coconut oil did not taste bad. I was just disappointed that I didn't see any improvement.
Amy W.
I have a friend who does this twice a week with the coconut oil. She swears by it, and thinks that her teeth are whiter. She is trying it because she was having issues with her gums bleeding. So far it seems to be helping this, but don't know if it is pull related. I haven't worked up the nerve quite yet. I did buy the oil...