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). 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, with University of Oxford scientists concluding 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 5-20 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.
Now, if you’re thinking that you could never keep a spoonful of oil in your mouth for 20 minutes, don’t worry. The amount of time you pull is less important than developing a consistent oil pulling practice. Personally, I try to oil pull for around ten minutes, two to three times a day. (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, and all four found statistically significant improvements in plaque after oil pulling (typically for two to four weeks, depending on the study). (6, 7, 8, 5) 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, those undergoing chemotherapy or radiation, individuals using inhalers for asthma, or anyone 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 which 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 20 minutes 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.
- Mix coconut oil with avocado oil.
- Whisk in baobab powder, until dissolved.
- Fill ice cube trays in 1 teaspoon portions (or 2 teaspoons if you prefer).
- Freeze for at least 2 hours, or until completely hardened.
- 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.
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, start with 5 minutes a day and work your way up to 15-20 minutes.
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 and floss and brush as normal.
- Mix coconut oil with avocado oil in a medium sized bowl, set aside.
- In a separate bowl combine the xylitol, baking soda and l-arginine, mix with a fork until well combined.
- Slowly add the powders into the oil, mixing with a fork.
- 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.
- Freeze for at least 2 hours, or until completely hardened.
- Transfer the chews 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.
- Use after an acidic drink like coffee or wine to help freshen your breath and prevent staining. I always recommend you wait at least 20-30 minutes after an acidic meal or drink before brushing, since acids weaken enamel, making it vulnerable with a toothbrush. Unlike brushing after an acidic drink, oil pulling will accomplish the same thing without harming your enamel. If you struggle with coffee breath, pop one of these and swish for 5-10 minutes before heading out the door—no brushing required!
How to Oil Pull
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, start with 3-5 minutes a day and work your way up to 15-20 minutes.
Don’t swallow the oil. Try using less if the urge to swallow is too great.
Don’t spit in the sink! Discard the used oil out in the trash, as discarding in the sink or toilet can clog plumbing.
Optional: Rinse your mouth with warm water.
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 20 minutes a day if you can—or break it up into two, ten-minute stretches if one marathon session isn’t feasible. 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
Are you seeing health benefits from your own oil pulling? Let me know your experiences with oil pulling in the comments below — I read each and every one!