Dental Care Basics

The Ultimate Guide to Oil Pulling: Benefits, How-To, and Everything Else You Need to Know

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Is oil pulling really as effective as they say it is? Here's what's hype vs. what's fact as well as the safety concerns you need to know about.

by Dr. Burhenne

oil pulling
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Keeping up with the latest trends in health and wellness can be extremely difficult—especially when you have to sort fact from fiction and determine which new product or practice is actually worth the hype.

Admittedly, I was a little skeptical of oil pulling when it first began increasing in popularity. But after extensive research—and trying it for myself—I can confirm that oil pulling is an easy, inexpensive way to rebalance the oral microbiome and improve oral and dental health.

The History of Oil Pulling

Essentially, oil pulling involves swishing oil in the mouth for a prolonged period of time (typically 5-20 minutes, although I say 1-3 is plenty!). And despite its modern resurgence, this practice has been around for thousands of years.

Ancient Ayurvedic medicine prescribed oil pulling for, well… everything. According to a review in The Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, Ayurvedic practitioners claim oil pulling can cure 30 different diseases, including many illnesses that have nothing to do with the mouth. (1)

While I am a firm believer in the mouth-body connection and the fact that what happens in the mouth happens in the body, I do not believe that oil pulling should be viewed as a total-body cure-all.

That said, there are plenty of proven oil pulling benefits that make this practice worth the effort.

Although oil pulling has been around for the last 3,000 years or so, it became a major trend in the 1990s after a Russian physician, Dr. F. Karach, wrote about its health-boosting potential.

While not extensive, research on oil pulling has been conducted and published over the last couple of decades in multiple journals. University of Oxford scientists conclude that oil pulling is cost-effective and free from major dangers and that it “may have beneficial effects on dental hygiene.” (2)

Not sure how to oil pull at home? Wondering about the benefits you can expect if you give oil pulling a try? Let’s take a look…

How to Oil Pull

Oil pulling is one of the easiest practices you can learn to improve and maintain oral health. In fact, learning how to oil pull is probably easier than learning how to brush your teeth the right way.

To start, place a tablespoon of oil in your mouth (more on the type of oil you should use later). Then, sit upright and swish the oil around for 1-3 minutes.

Finally, spit it out into a trash can, not a toilet or sink (the oil can clog pipes as it hardens).

Some sources say that brushing after you oil pull is best. I disagree, and recommend brushing before oil pulling.

The biofilm on your teeth (oral microbiome) needs to be reconditioned each day to retain healthy colonies of good bacteria, and rebalancing the oral microbiome is one of the key benefits of oil pulling. If you brush after you pull, you’ll actually get rid of the good bacteria you just worked to support.

Personally, I try to oil pull for around one minute, two to three times a week. I’ll do it more if I’m concerned about inflammation of the gums. (Some days it’s just not possible—but l do have a fun recipe at the end of this article that makes oil pulling much more fun and convenient.)

The Best Oil for Oil Pulling

Sesame was (and is) the oil of choice for Ayurvedic practitioners. However, I strongly recommend coconut oil for oil pulling.

First, coconut oil is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory powerhouse, which makes it ideal for reducing inflammation and oxidation in the mouth.

Coconut oil also contains lauric acid, a medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) that is incredibly effective at killing the bad bacteria that can lead to tooth decay. (3, 4) These same compounds may also decrease the amount of plaque that builds up on your teeth, in turn reducing your chance for gum disease. (5)

I only use coconut oil for oil pulling. However, if you find the taste of coconut undesirable, I still recommend oil pulling with sesame or another oil that’s better tolerated.

As long as you choose an oil that is cold-pressed and organic, you will still receive some benefits (though not all of the benefits associated with coconut oil).

5 Coconut Oil Pulling Benefits

There’s a lot of misinformation about what oil pulling can and cannot do for oral and overall health. So if you want to know what the science says about oil pulling benefits, read on…

1. Reduces the Short-Term Risk of Gingivitis

Regular oil pulling might help you avoid the challenging and potentially dangerous form of gum disease known as gingivitis.

When your gums become swollen, inflamed, and tender, it may be a sign you have gingivitis. If you exhibit any of these symptoms, you should definitely take them seriously, as untreated gingivitis can eventually lead to major oral health issues like periodontitis.

The good news here is that oil pulling reduces gingivitis-causing plaque.

This may be because, during oil pulling, the oil acts as an emollient. Essentially, it suds up a little like soap, cleaning the teeth and gums from unwanted buildup. (5)

Four clinical trials have been conducted to analyze the effect of oil pulling on the plaque known to cause gingivitis. All four found statistically significant improvements in plaque after oil pulling (typically for two to four weeks, depending on the study). (5, 6, 7, 8)

One of these studies even recorded a small increase in the benefits of oil pulling over chlorhexidine, the main ingredient in traditional mouthwashes. (7)

I do want to emphasize, however, that these are short-term studies observing plaque buildup. To date, no research has been conducted on long-term oil pulling and gingivitis risk.

2. Could Help Remineralize Teeth

Say it with me: “Some cavities can be reversed naturally.”

This concept may fly in the face of traditional dentistry’s reliance on  fillings, but the natural process of remineralization means that some tooth decay can actually be addressed without a drill.

Your teeth are designed to rebuild themselves on an ongoing basis, but remineralization is only possible in the presence of the proper nutrients and the absence of cavity-causing bacteria.

While diet is key to this reversal process, coconut oil pulling might also play a useful part.

Oil pulling corrects bacterial dysbiosis in the mouth, ensuring that the bad bacteria that causes tooth decay is eliminated, while positive bacteria is allowed to thrive.

3. Kills Cavity-Causing Bacteria

As I just briefly mentioned, overgrowth of certain harmful bacteria in your mouth, such as Streptococcus mutans (S. mutans), can lead to cavities, or “dental caries.” (9)

The good news? Oil pulling with both sesame and coconut oils gets rid of excessive S. mutans within the mouth just as effectively as the chlorhexidine found in conventional mouthwash. (10, 11, 12)

This effect only seems to occur after at least three weeks, though—just one reason why coconut oil pulling should be used as a long-term dental health solution, not a quick fix. (13)

Oil pulling also carries a bonus benefit that mouthwash does not: oil pulling kills harmful bacteria that can cause cavities without also drastically reducing the good bacteria your mouth needs to stay healthy.

4. Decreases Oral Thrush Symptoms

When Candida yeast is allowed to proliferate in mouth, it can lead to an infection known as oral thrush.

This condition is most often experienced by people:

  • With dentures
  • Undergoing chemotherapy or radiation
  • Using inhalers for asthma
  • Taking medication that alters the microbiome (including antibiotics and steroids).

Babies also experience oral thrush somewhat frequently, although they can’t oil pull.

Coconut oil is known to have antifungal properties, so it helps to kill and Candida living in the mouth.

A review of current research confirms that coconut oil pulling is a very cost-effective and easy way to reduce oral thrush symptoms. (14)

5. Beats Bad Breath

If you struggle with bad breath or “halitosis,” you’ve probably relied on mouthwash to correct the condition. But as it turns out, that may not be the best solution.

The alcohol in mouthwash dries out the inside of your mouth, which, in turn, reduces the amount of saliva you can produce.

That’s bad news, since saliva ensures that certain bacteria don’t propagate and that oral pH remains steady.

In short, mouthwash may temporarily get rid of bad breath, but its continued use can actually prolong the issue you’re trying to resolve.

That brings us to oil pulling.

Unlike mouthwash, oil pulling is able to support your saliva’s efforts in disorganizing bacteria without killing the good bacteria and drying your mouth out.

In fact, at least three separate clinical trials found that regular oil pulling can kill the bacteria responsible for halitosis. (15, 16, 17)

Coconut Oil Pulling Dangers

While this is a generally safe practice, oil pulling does involve one minor risk you should understand.

If you often choke on oils while oil pulling, the fat can make its way into your lungs and, in rare cases, cause lipid pneumonia. (18) This doesn’t happen a lot, but it is why young children shouldn’t be encouraged to practice oil pulling until they have more control over their reflexes.

This is important to note, especially because oral thrush (described above) is common among babies. Again, oil pulling is NOT recommended for infants and children, as they are more likely to swallow the oil.

On the other hand, some oil pulling dangers you may read about actually aren’t dangers at all.

For starters, oil pulling does NOT loosen crowns or fillings unless there is a decayed foundation beneath these devices. In this case, you should definitely see your dentist (and perhaps be thankful that pulling exposed the problem).

Another myth about oil pulling dangers is that it may be harmful to pregnant mothers because they may re-ingest toxins pulled from the gums.

Fortunately, oil pulling doesn’t draw anything directly from the bloodstream. You shouldn’t be swallowing the oil, but there’s no reason to think oil pulling would impact the health of a fetus or a pregnant mom.

Does Oil Pulling Work? The Truth About 4 Oil Pulling Myths

Oil pulling definitely works to improve your oral health, no question. It kills bad bacteria and still allows you to maintain a healthy oral microbiome.

Additionally, oil pulling can lower inflammation and oxidative stress that may be impacting the teeth, gums, and mouth.

But, as I stated, oil pulling is not a cure-all. Here’s a look at what it can’t do:

1. Oil pulling doesn’t cure TMJ/TMD.

It’s a great thought, but there’s no proof that oil pulling does anything for the symptoms of TMJ.

Many people report a reduction in jaw pain when oil pulling, but I think of it more as a probable “mask” for the pain, if anything.

If you struggle with TMJ/TMD symptoms, I recommend speaking with your dentist and considering a sleep study to find out if you’re grinding your teeth at night.

2. Oil pulling doesn’t whiten teeth.

It might help improve the appearance of your teeth by removing stains caused by bacteria. But oil pulling doesn’t whiten teeth any more than swishing water in your mouth for the same amount of time would do. (19)

3. Oil pulling doesn’t cure disease.

Remember those 30 conditions that Ayurvedic tradition claims oil pulling can treat or cure?

Even some of the most vocal, modern fans of oil pulling say it can improve diabetes, migraines, arthritis, eczema, migraines, and asthma. Unfortunately, there’s no evidence to support those statements.

4. Oil pulling can’t replace brushing and flossing.

Oil pulling definitely helps to reduce plaque and cavity-causing bacteria, but it is only one part of a good dental health routine.

Don’t stop flossing, brushing, or tongue scraping—these are all necessary for preventing and reversing cavities, preventing gum disease, and reducing your risk of other oral health problems.

Coconut Oil Chews: The Convenient, Mess-Free Way to Oil Pull

If you’re like me, your schedule is jam-packed and finding the time to swish oil in your mouth is difficult at best. Well, I have good news! My recipe for oil pulling chews makes keeping up with your oil pulling routine easier than ever.

While developing these recipes, I was also able to add in a few additional ingredients that promote healthy flora within the mouth. Whether you’re focusing on remineralizing or boosting the microbiome of your health, I’m confident you’ll enjoy these options for a more convenient way to oil pull.


Microbiome Coconut Oil Pulling Chews

Print Recipe
microbiome oil pulling chews
Even if you already take a daily probiotic, I highly recommend adding the spore-based probiotics to this recipe. Swishing them in your mouth for 5-10 minutes will give them time to fight bad bacteria in the mouth and rebalance the oral microbiome—which is critically important for fighting bad breath and preventing gum disease, cavities, and a host of other issues.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Servings: Makes about ¾ cups or 36 one teaspoon portions

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Mix coconut oil with avocado oil.microbiome oil pulling chews
  2. Whisk in baobab powder, until dissolved.microbiome oil pulling chews
  3. Fill ice cube trays in 1 teaspoon portions (or 2 teaspoons if you prefer).microbiome oil pulling chews
  4. Freeze for at least 2 hours, or until completely hardened.microbiome oil pulling chews
  5. Transfer to a jar and store in the fridge. Use one each morning for oil pulling first thing in the morning, before eating or drinking anything. Look for silicone or BPA-free ice cube trays if possible.

Tips

After brushing and flossing, gently swish, pull and suck the oil through your teeth, the chews will quickly melt in your mouth as you begin. Start slow and don’t work too hard, pulling for about 1-3 minutes at a time.

Don’t swallow the oil.

If the urge to swallow is too great, try cutting the chew into half to use less.

Discard the used oil out in the trash, discarding in the sink or toilet can clog plumbing. Rinse your mouth with warm water.


Remineralizing Coconut Oil Pulling Chews Recipe

Print Recipe
Remineralizing Coconut Oil Pulling Chews
Oil pulling is one the easiest and most affordable ways to support oral and dental health. I recommend pulling each morning before eating or drinking anything. There's no need to stress about it, either. Just 1-3 minutes makes a difference!
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes, freeze for 2 hours
Servings: Makes about ¾ cups or 72 half teaspoon portions

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Mix coconut oil with avocado oil in a medium sized bowl, set aside.
  2. In a separate bowl combine the xylitol, baking soda and l-arginine, mix with a fork until well combined.Remineralizing Coconut Oil Pulling Chews
  3. Slowly add the powders into the oil, mixing with a fork.
  4. Fill ice cube trays in 1/2 teaspoon portions, mix often as you fill the tray to prevent powders from settling to the bottom of the bowl.
  5. Freeze for at least 2 hours, or until completely hardened.
  6. Transfer the chews to a jar and store in the fridge.Remineralizing Coconut Oil Pulling Chews

Tips

- Use these chews after drinking something acidic like coffee or wine to help prevent staining.
- If you struggle with coffee breath, pulling for 5-10 minutes can minimize coffee odors—no brushing required!
- If you want to brush after an acidic meal or drink, wait at least 20-30 minutes, since acids weaken enamel, making it vulnerable to a toothbrush.

How to Oil Pull

After brushing and flossing, gently swish, pull, and suck the oil through your teeth; the chews will quickly melt in your mouth once you begin. Go slow and don’t work too hard, pulling for about 1-3 minutes.

- Don’t swallow the oil. Try using less if the urge to swallow is too great.
- When finished pulling, don’t spit the oil in the sink or toilet. (It can can clog pipes as it solidifies.) Instead, discard the used oil in the trash.
- Optional: Rinse your mouth with warm water after pulling.

Final Thoughts on Oil Pulling

I started out as an oil pulling skeptic—probably like many of you. However, the research and my own experiences prove that oil pulling is a useful part of a good oral health routine.

Not only can oil pulling reduce plaque and bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum disease, it may be responsible for beating bad breath.

My preferred oil for pulling is coconut oil, due to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidative properties. Try pulling for 1-3 minutes a day if you can.

And if you’re interested in trying oil pulling but often in a hurry, my coconut oil pulling chews are an easy way to make this beneficial practice a part of your regular routine.

Dr. Mark Burhenne

Got more questions about oil pulling? Ask me a question!

References

  1. Singh, A., & Purohit, B. (2011). Tooth brushing, oil pulling and tissue regeneration: A review of holistic approaches to oral health. Journal of Ayurveda and integrative medicine2(2), 64. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3131773/
  2. Gbinigie, O., Onakpoya, I., Spencer, E., MacBain, M. M., & Heneghan, C. (2016). Effect of oil pulling in promoting oro dental hygiene: A systematic review of randomized clinical trials. Complementary therapies in medicine26, 47-54. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27261981
  3. Kabara, J. J., Swieczkowski, D. M., Conley, A. J., & Truant, J. P. (1972). Fatty acids and derivatives as antimicrobial agents. Antimicrobial agents and chemotherapy, 2(1), 23-28. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC444260/
  4. Huang, C. B., Alimova, Y., Myers, T. M., & Ebersole, J. L. (2011). Short-and medium-chain fatty acids exhibit antimicrobial activity for oral microorganisms. Archives of oral biology56(7), 650-654. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3119748/
  5. Peedikayil, F. C., Sreenivasan, P., & Narayanan, A. (2015). Effect of coconut oil in plaque related gingivitis—a preliminary report. Nigerian medical journal: journal of the Nigeria Medical Association56(2), 143. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4382606/
  6. Amith, H. V., Ankola, A. V., & Nagesh, L. (2007). Effect of oil pulling on plaque and gingivitis. J Oral Health Community Dent1(1), 12-18. Full text: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/228617444_Effect_of_Oil_Pulling_on_Plaque_and_Gingivitis
  7. Asokan, S., Emmadi, P., & Chamundeswari, R. (2009). Effect of oil pulling on plaque induced gingivitis: A randomized, controlled, triple-blind study. Indian Journal of Dental Research20(1), 47. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19336860
  8. Nagilla, J., Kulkarni, S., Madupu, P. R., Doshi, D., Bandari, S. R., & Srilatha, A. (2017). Comparative Evaluation of Antiplaque Efficacy of Coconut Oil Pulling and a Placebo, Among Dental College Students: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of clinical and diagnostic research: JCDR11(9), ZC08. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5713846/
  9. Ojeda-Garcés, J. C., Oviedo-García, E., & Salas, L. A. (2013). Streptococcus mutans and dental caries. Ces Odontología26(1), 44-56. Full text: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/321049407_Revisiones_T_e_m_a_de_44_Revista_CES_Odontologia_ISSN_0120-971X_Volumen_26_No_1_Primer_Semestre_de_2013_Streptococcus_mutans_and_dental_caries_Streptococcus_mutans_y_caries_dental
  10. Asokan, S., Rathan, J., Muthu, M. S., Rathna, P. V., & Emmadi, P. (2008). Effect of oil pulling on Streptococcus mutans count in plaque and saliva using Dentocult SM Strip mutans test: a randomized, controlled, triple-blind study. Journal of Indian Society of Pedodontics and Preventive Dentistry26(1), 12. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18408265
  11. Peedikayil, F. C., Remy, V., John, S., Chandru, T. P., Sreenivasan, P., & Bijapur, G. A. (2016). Comparison of antibacterial efficacy of coconut oil and chlorhexidine on Streptococcus mutans: An in vivo study. Journal of International Society of Preventive & Community Dentistry6(5), 447. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5109859/
  12. Kaushik, M., Reddy, P., Sharma, R., Udameshi, P., Mehra, N., & Marwaha, A. (2016). The effect of coconut oil pulling on Streptococcus mutans count in saliva in comparison with chlorhexidine mouthwash. J Contemp Dent Pract, 17(1), 38-41. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27084861
  13. Jauhari, D., Srivastava, N., Rana, V., & Chandna, P. (2015). Comparative evaluation of the effects of fluoride mouthrinse, herbal mouthrinse and oil pulling on the caries activity and Streptococcus mutans count using oratest and Dentocult SM strip mutans kit. International journal of clinical pediatric dentistry8(2), 114. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4562043/
  14. Naseem, M., Khiyani, M. F., Nauman, H., Zafar, M. S., Shah, A. H., & Khalil, H. S. (2017). Oil pulling and importance of traditional medicine in oral health maintenance. International journal of health sciences, 11(4), 65. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5654187/
  15. Asokan, S., Kumar, R. S., Emmadi, P., Raghuraman, R., & Sivakumar, N. (2011). Effect of oil pulling on halitosis and microorganisms causing halitosis: A randomized controlled pilot trial. Journal of Indian Society of Pedodontics and Preventive Dentistry29(2), 90. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21911944
  16. Sood, P., Devi, A., & Narang, R. (2014). Comparative efficacy of oil pulling and chlorhexidine on oral malodor: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of clinical and diagnostic research: JCDR, 8(11), ZC18. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4290321/
  17. Sheikh, F. S., & Iyer, R. R. (2016). The effect of oil pulling with rice bran oil, sesame oil, and chlorhexidine mouth rinsing on halitosis among pregnant women: A comparative interventional study. Indian Journal of Dental Research27(5), 508. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27966509
  18. Kuroyama, M., Kagawa, H., Kitada, S., Maekura, R., Mori, M., & Hirano, H. (2015). Exogenous lipoid pneumonia caused by repeated sesame oil pulling: a report of two cases. BMC pulmonary medicine15(1), 135. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4628246/
  19. Asokan, S., Rathinasamy, T. K., Inbamani, N., Menon, T., Kumar, S. S., Emmadi, P., & Raghuraman, R. (2011). Mechanism of oil-pulling therapy-in vitro study. Indian Journal of Dental Research22(1), 34. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21525674

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