Oil pulling is everywhere! Even though it is a technique taken from the ancient tradition of Ayurvedic medicine from 3,000 years ago, it’s recently become a huge trend and is even touted by practically every celebrity on Instagram.

What is it? Oil pulling is swishing with coconut, sesame, or sunflower oil for about twenty minutes and then spitting it out. The internet is full of lofty claims that oil pulling cures eczema, arthritis, gum disease, bad breath, and even whitens your teeth.

Is it as good for you as everyone says? No — but I do think there can be some benefit to it.

If you’re interested in oil pulling, this is what you need to know, based on the scientific literature as well as my own experience trying it out.

Oil Pulling: Fact vs. Fiction

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

The claim is that swishing oil in between the teeth can remove bacteria. Just like scale on your bathtub, plaque needs to be mechanically removed by scraping it from tooth surfaces — this is done with floss and the hygienist’s tools. But what about all the studies that say oil pulling reduces plaque? Reducing plaque and removing it in a way that prevents gum disease are different things. Swishing for 20 minutes with oil reduces plaque in the same way that swishing with water for 20 minutes reduces plaque — it dilutes the stickiness of plaque and its ability to stick on teeth.

If done daily, oil pulling could remove some tooth staining and reduce plaque and bacteria, but not enough to prevent gum disease. That’s where flossing, brushing, and tongue scraping come in.

2. Oil pulling is a great replacement for mouthwash and can improve gut health.

You know the mouthwash in your cabinet that proudly claims to kill 99% of germs? It also wipes out the good bacteria in your mouth, which isn’t good for dental health nor the health of the rest of your body. Overall health — including brain health — depends on a healthy microbiome, which is our body’s natural bacterial ecology that we have evolved with and which prevents against disease.

If you miss the feeling of mouthwash and are looking for a replacement, oil pulling can be a great alternative. Coconut oil, in particular, contains antioxidant Vitamin E, as well as lauric acid, which has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.

3. Choose an organic, high-quality oil.

A Harvard Medical School study found that one in five Ayurvedic herbal medical products produced in South Asia and sold in Boston grocery stores contained potentially harmful levels of lead, mercury, or arsenic. Oil pulling can be harmful if you don’t choose a high-quality, organic oil that is manufactured well.

4. Oil pulling isn’t kid-friendly.

If oil goes down the wrong tube, it can cause lipoid pneumonia — an awfully silly risk to take for something that does not have much upside for a child’s dental health. The best thing parents can do for their children’s dental health is focus on raising great brushers and flossers using only positive reinforcement.

5. Oil pulling is not a cure-all.

There is no scientific evidence to support the claims that oil pulling helps with diabetes, migraines, arthritis, eczema, migraines, or asthma. If you’re going to spend 20 to 30 minutes doing something for your health, perfect your brushing and flossing technique. Many of us don’t stop to think about our technique, but I see the damaging effects of overbrushing all too often. Another great thing to spend time on is Buteyko breathing, which is a myofacial physical therapy that effectively treats asthma and sleep breathing disorders.

6. Oil pulling is safe during pregnancy.

Oil pulling does not draw out toxins in the mouth. If you like oil pulling, there’s no reason to stop while you’re pregnant!

7. Oil pulling does not whiten teeth.

Oil pulling for 20-30 minutes every day could help remove some teeth staining, but so does swishing with water for just as long.

8. Oil pulling does not treat TMJ/TMD.

Swishing with oil doesn’t address the root causes that contribute to the many factors that cause jaw pain. If you are oil pulling and experiencing some jaw pain relief, keep in mind that this is masking the symptoms, but failing to treat the root cause. If your house was on fire, you’d want to stop the fire — not just remove the smoke. Be sure to work with your dentist and get a sleep study if you’re grinding your teeth.

All of this said, Ayurvedic techniques deserve more attention and scientific research. Just because the evidence is limited doesn’t mean there aren’t people out there getting benefit or that there are health benefits we simply haven’t proven yet with clinical studies.

As long as you’re aware of how to do it safely and always use a high-quality oil, I don’t see any downsides to oil pulling.

I won’t be continuing with oil pulling since I don’t see enough of a benefit, however, everyone is different.

Mark Burhenne DDS

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!

Photo by Meal Makeover Mom / CC BY-ND 2.0

62 Comments

  1. Oil pulling has helped relieve toothache pain for me. I don’t quite believe it can heal the tooth, but I’m working on other factors to heal it. I’ve noticed minor improvement, but considering I’ve already lost one tooth before, this is a huge success for me! I won’t stop oil pulling, it may very well be psychological, but it’s helping! Also, I really enjoy your articles, thank you so much for the helpful information. I can’t wait for the DIY toothpaste recipes 🙂

    • If your sensitivity comes from gum recession or exposed roots, then oil pulling may help remineralize the teeth and that will help your pain, so I think you’re right! It could be more than psychological. However, if your pain comes from a cavity, then it’s not going to help. Thanks for the compliment, Natalie, I appreciate it and am glad you’re finding it all useful 🙂

        • The only reason it would help remineralise teeth has to do with the fact that swishing coconut oil in your mouth for 20 mins makes you salivate more, and you are essentially swishing a mixture of coconut oil and saliva in your mouth for an extended period of time, so the saliva has lots of time to neutralize the mouth and deposit minerals to your teeth to help remineralize. So it’s not necessarily the coconut oil itself that does it, though there are many other benefits besides that can be attributed to the coconut oil.

  2. Thank you for the information, Dr. Burhenne. Someone mentioned to me that the pH of coconut oil is problematic and should not be used for oil pulling if the patient has crown and bridge, porcelain inlays, etc. Is there any truth to this?

    • Sure! There shouldn’t be any interaction between the oil and the metal. In fact, I think oil pulling would be especially useful with braces. When I had braces in my thirties, I used to swish with Oxyfresh for ten minutes after every meal, which helped me immensely. I think this is part of the reason oil pulling works — it’s because people are swishing for a long time.

  3. I have a question for you, every time I brush my teeth they bleed, know matter what I do for them. I brush them twice a day sometimes three times a day faithfully and they will not stop blending. My Dentist, Dr.Robert T. Peck as you’ve probably already have know him and his father (Who has now Sence retired from his practice) on Northveiw Rd. in Boise, Idaho. Has been my Dentist for the past 19 years now going on twenty.

    I’m a type 2 diabetic, seance 2010….. I’m on Oxygen 3-1/2 liters per second. I do not have sleep apnea. My lungs were damaged from having pulmonary embolism’s and a massive heart attack back in 2010, at the same time I was diagnosed with having type 2 diabetes.

    Now I’m on Warfarin for the rest of my life, and this is one of the reasons why I’m having problems with my gums breeding all of the time. Dr. Peck has me washing my mouth out with, Chlohexidine Gluconate 0.12% Oral Rinse, USP. I’ve been using this faithfully for 19 years. Swishing it in my mouth and spitting it out, not rinsing my mouth out afterwards. Just to keep my gums from breeding so bad that I at time’s will have to go back into my bathroom to spit out my sliva and blood that has acquired within my mouth after I’ve barely brushed my teeth.

    My only question is….. Will this “oil pulling” help me with my gums to “help STOP” the breeding from happening every time I brush my teeth?! I’m getting too old in my ways of wanting a beautiful looking smile. I went “over the hill a decade ago” And I’m getting really tired of putting our the “big bucks” Just to keep from loosening my teeth. because of having dry mouth and being cursed with the family genetics, of having TMJ and TMD, amongst other thing’s.

    I even carry a pack of flossing picks with me everywhere I go, just to have in case of an emergency if I would ever need them to get out the food from in between my teeth. I been dubbed “the flossy” no not (flussey) Haha, all jokes set aside, so…. am I on the right track?! Or should I get off this train and go somewhere else for help. I sorry if I sound so rude or out of line, but I’m trying my hardest to keep my teeth and have some money in my bank account, to save for my grandchildren’s education.

    I’m at a loss right now, tired of having to put out over $1500.00 + each and every year for dental work on my teeth. just to have them clean, x-rayed, filling put into my teeth, New crowns, replacing old crowns, extraction of a broken bridge, tooth.replacing a new crown. etc..etc..etc……

    • Lynn, I understand completely the frustration of not being able to fix something in the mouth and how daunting it can be. It sounds like you’re aware that the warfarin and diabetes are a large cause of the bleeding, but breathing in the oxygen could be causing dry mouth. Here’s what I do if I were you: given all the things I just mentioned as an aside, you and your dentist need to establish, to what degree do you have primary gum disease – in other words, is it type 1, 2, 3…is it more than just gingivitis? Do you have deep pockets? And then reverse whatever stage of gum disease you have. This will make it easier for you to stabilize your blood sugar levels and although it won’t negate the effects of warfarin, it’ll be good to find out how much of the bleeding is due to gum disease and how much is due to warfarin. It would be a pity to think all this time the warfarin was the culprit, when in fact, it was the gum disease, which can wreak havoc with the health of your whole body. Keep me posted and let me know if this helps.

      • When I read your post today I just about cried! Yes you heard right! It’s been an emotional 48hrs and everything in your post reminded me just how tough this battle with CRPS really is! There’s some stuff going on with my insurance company and I’m reminded how some people just don’t understand what we go through on a daily basis! I’m reminded however in your post that we stand together in our fight and that if need be we can support each other through things!

  4. Oil pulling does remove plaque… and hard tartar if you do it long enough. Twice it removed hard tartar that kept building on my two bottom front teeth. The first time it did it, I actually thought I broke or chipped my tooth when the sharp tartar came off and scratched my tongue.

    As for replacing brushing and flossing. You’re supposed to brush after oil pulling. And as for TMJ, it really does help. I spent a lot of money with two braces and it made it worse both times. The TMJ really helped along with sleeping with a flatter pillow so that my head sits further back and relaxes my jaw… which stops the grinding.

    • What is the name of the brand of coconut oil you use? Is it refined or unrefined? Does this happen (flossing off tartar pieces) after just oil pulling or after brushing and oil pulling? of brushing?

      Sorry for so many questions, this will greatly help me on my quest, thank you

      • Hi sevast, I alternate brands of coconut oil but they’re unrefined, organic, cold pressed coconut oils. They are Australian brands. I also alternate between coconut and cold pressed extra virgin olive oil. The hard tartar didn’t come off when flossing. I just woke up and it would be sort of hanging off my bottom tooth and it would scratch my tongue. Then when I realised what it was, I pulled it off. It didn’t happen overnight either but over several months of OP and it didn’t happen on all teeth. It seemed to be that the worst or thickest tartar was the one that came off and that was on my two bottom teeth. The next time it happened, it was the other bottom tooth. The oil pulling seems to soften and loosen them over time. I oil pulled then rinsed with salt water. Then I’d brush as I normally would. The oil pulling isn’t meant to replace brushing and flossing. It’s supposed to kill bacteria, loosen biofilm/plaque to make it easier to brush off. Chewing Mastic Gum is great too.

  5. I have a bridge directly beside my front tooth, and I am really wanting a healthier, more nice looking smile but I am concerned that it will cause my bridge tooth to decay. Is there any change it could ruin my bridge? I still have it for another 7 years

  6. I’ll keep this short. I had an accident many years ago that fractured my jaw and needed root canals and crowns canine to canine. I also have 1 less tooth on one side from ortho work. Needless to say, my jaw healed, but unevenly. I’m a grinder, and have 6 crowns on the left not including the front. I started oil pulling to elevate red swollen gums from newly placed crowns, biological width issues. It helped, but not my jaw is swollen and inflamed near 2 bottom crowns. I don’t know what to do. I love the benefits of puling with coconut oil, but will it cost me more $$ to replace what I already have. Not including my silver fillings.

  7. I did this one time and immediately got sick. As far as I can tell I’m one of those few people that inhaled oil and got lipid pneumonia. My experience:
    Saturday at 3pm. 15 minutes of oil pulling. I started to develop a cough in the next couple hours and by bed time it was the most painful chest cough I’ve ever had. Coupled with an insane sinus pressure headache.
    Sleep was rough that night and by Sunday morning I was pretty sure I had a fever. I checked and it was at 102.
    It’s Monday morning now and I’ve still got the same symptoms. Can’t sleep. Fever fluctuating from 101 to 102.7. Debilitating headache, coughing and body aches.
    Has anyone else had a similar experience???
    I can’t seem to find anyone who has.
    Now I’m just hoping that since I certainly won’t be doing anymore oil pulling this will all go away soon…
    I’ve been doing some saline nettipot flushing and oil steaming and luckily had some quercitin and respiratory health pills and turmeric that I’ve been taking.
    Please help.

    • Wow, I am really sorry you experienced such an unpleasant illness. Are you sure the illness was a direct result of oil pulling and not just a sinus infection and/or flu that had other causes? From what I understand, lipid pneumonia is caused by inhaling oil, which then gets on the lungs. Do you recall actually inhaling the oil? You should know if you inhaled it. After all, it’s very obvious when you inhale water; most people instantly start coughing and spluttering. Is it not the same with coconut oil? I would be alarmed to find that one can inhale coconut oil and then contract lipid pneumonia without even realising they inhaled the oil in the first place!! Do give us an update. What did your doctor say? Are you absolutely 100% positive inhaling coconut oil was the cause, and if so, did you notice that you inhaled the oil at the time?

  8. I started oil pulling with Organic, Cold pressed and unrefined Coconut Oil, about four weeks ago. In the last week I started having discomfort in my gums. It almost feels like something is drawing and/or pulling on my gums and teeth.

    Would Coconut Oil pulling cause this effect?

    I look forward to hearing your thoughts and/or knowledge on this issue.

  9. Dr. Mark Burhenne,
    I started Oil pulling since February 2016 and am doing so till date. My experience is that my mouth feels fresh and am free of bad breath. However, my concern is Will daily oil pulling loosen my gums and teeth?

  10. What a fantastic website! I really wish all dentists would include nutritional education as part of their treatment. I wanted to comment on my experience with oil pulling. I used organic coconut oil twice daily (about 10-15 minutes) for several weeks and noticed a huge difference. Although you said it didn’t whiten teeth, mine really did whiten up. I even had an ex-partner comment who hadn’t seen me in several months, so it wasn’t just my imagination 🙂 They felt much cleaner and my hygienist said that yearly visits would suffice as things were looking so good. I’m down to just 3-4x weekly now. It really has been one of the best things I’ve done for my teeth.

  11. Dr. Mark Burhenne,
    Abouts 2 1/2 weeks ago I had to have a bone graft & eventually I will have a tooth implant. But, a friend encouraged me to try oil pulling. I have tried it several times so far, but my concerns is will the oil pulling have a negative effect on the healing of my bone graft. I would like to continue the oil pulling but not at the expense of my healing of my bone graft. Thanks, Rebecca

  12. Very informative Dr. Burhenne. My periodontist recenctly told me that I had a 5-6 mm on my back tooth. He believed it was caused when I had a molar extraction five or six years ago and the tissue did not heal properly. He recommended that I have a vestage wedge performed to lower the gum line so that I can have a better access to cleaning but I am balking at the cost of the procedure and my wife is insisting that I take the natural path in hopes that it will heal naturally. We (or I) got burned big time at a prior dentist and I had to fork over hundreds of dollars and my wife is highly skeptical. Anyway, these are the steps I am taking to hopefully heal this naturally:

    1: stop using a florudie based toothpaste and mouthwash. Currently using a product known as Earth paste

    2: swish organic cocunut oil extra virgin for 20 minutes twice a day

    3: chew three cloves of garlic twice a day…..boy is that HOT!!!!

    4: Eliminated 80% of my sugar consumption. Staying away from soda and coffee like a plague.

    5: trying to eat more vegtables.

    6; Staying awaying from acidic foods

    7: increasing my consumption of organic whole milk and dairy products

    8 (flossing, yeah i should have mentioned it before) Do you recommend the old fashion style of flossing or the pickers with a floss string attached to it?

    9: drinking organic green tea at night and in the morning

    I have read that taking large dosages of vitamin C may help as well but I am skeptical. In a nutshell is it possible to heal PD naturally without expensive sugary and if so am I on the right tract? is there anything else that I can do to further enhance my home treatments of my teeth/gums?

  13. Thanks for the great advice Dr. Burhenne. I was wondering if oil pulling is harmful at all considering I unfortunately have 3 mercury fillings in my mouth?

  14. Is it too early for a 5 year old to get started with an oil pulling regime. Any other natural way to reverse cavity???

  15. hi
    im v upset about my teeths.about 12years ago I had a root canal of front upper teeth.but with no crow.this year I started hot lemon water for better health but according to various people it is the main cause of my tooth enamel destruction ..my lower front teeths have noe plaque n tartar in within just one week. 🙁 I search oil pulling on internet n starts doing it from last tow days.anyone will pls guide me about this issue???

  16. Hi

    I started to do oil Pulling about a week ago, after my dentist told me I had a gum disease/infection and they have to perform a Deep Cleaning.

    I use coconut oil to do this, in the morning, for 20 minutes. I noticed that my gums dont bleed when I brush, at least not the last 4 days. BUT… my teeth are becoming a bit sensitive. Is it because this thing is actually working and the plaque/infection in my gums is coming out ?

  17. Hi Dr. Burhenne,
    I started oil pulling a few weeks ago with coconut oil by the recommendation of my Dr. It has been extremely effective on treating thrush, along with medications Nystatin and Diflucan. It is helpful in easing the pain and burning in the gums, cheeks and tongue. I had never pulled before. No, my teeth are not whiter, nor has my tarter magically disappeared, but my mouth does feel cleaner and weirdly enough I kind of enjoy it. I don’t know how long I will keep it up, as the candida overgrowth is not completely gone, but it isn’t hard, and my mouth feels SO much better!

  18. Hi, recently I found out that I have gum recession. I have tooth sensitivity for two years or more. Does oil pull help to cure gum recession?

  19. be sure you use cold-pressed high-quality oil ..but i am not sure of the benefits opposed to correct brushing and flossing

    Due to my sore gums and sporadic pain moving around my molars…i started off with virgin olive oil for a few weeks and it seemed to help… i then used coconut oil (non virgin/cold-pressed) and it drove my mouth crazy… .. dentist said my gums/teeth were very clean, when i mentioned the oil pulling he said said better to stop as maybe the oil had some chemicals and getting into the gums…. i tried a few weeks later with water and made my mouth super dry… i don’t bother now
    i use a salt based toothpaste and floss everyday (with high- wax type as some brands really hurt) and my gums are good.. …i think my original problem was teeth clenching (causing the tooth pain) which i have now a nightguard, not flossing and using a too hard toothbrush…..also used to be constantly picking at my teeth with toothpicks which may have led to gum irritation… my dentist said this is actually very bad for my teeth ( as i have mostly crowns)

    .. better to get to root cause (forgive the pun) of the pain/ discomfort and then try oil pulling… also better to catch and fill any cavities early !! … crowns and root canals cost serious money.. believe me 🙁

  20. I have oiled pulled for 4 days for 20 minutes then spit out theoil. I put the coconut oil in a cup,then brushed my teeth. I went to the hygienist and said my gums were very oily. She said my gums did look much better. I have gum disease.

  21. I have an old devitalized -root canal tooth which feels loose. I got it X rayed and it shows that there is infection in the bone. Can there be a connection between this tooth and feeling weak?

    Is oil pulling a good idea until I have the tooth removed?
    I oil pulled twice and the tooth feels more loose.

    Thanks

  22. Thanks for the useful info! I have a question about using coconut oil for oil pulling. Ive read that coconut oil contains lauric acid and two other acids, and lauric acid kills bacteria. My question is would these acids in the oil be harmful on tooth enamel? I figured that all acids would be harmfukillsthe tooth’s enamel

  23. I have sensitive gums, and oil-pulling absolutely stops the sensitivity. I don’t know about cavities, but I have friends who do oil-pulling in addition to a diet by Ramiel Nagel, and it does fix cavities. The diet involves raw dairy milk, grass-fed beef & cod liver oil. Not an easy or a cheap diet, but it does work. Oil-pulling does stop arthritis pain. I used to hurt in my elbows, shoulders, knees and back. I started oil-pulling, and within two weeks, the pain was gone and has never come back.

  24. I have pulled for years. I use coconut oil with a half cap of neem bark extract. I also use neem bark tooth powder. I used to have terrible plaque every dental visit not anymore. Neem is better than chlorohexidine according to a few studies. My wife grew up chewing Neem twigs in India. Her teeth were perfect till coming here.

  25. Hello, I’ve been oil pulling for more than two moths now along with brushing, and I feel my teeth cleaner (never felt so clean), though, reading your article a doubt rose. Since mouthwash destroys even good bacteria that are beneficial for our health, wouldn’t oil pulling do the same killing the bad and the good bacteria?

  26. A dentist told me that oil pulling killed not only the bad bacteria, but the necessary & good bacteria as well. Never thought about that aspect.

  27. ok, here is my experience with Oil pulling. 66 year old male. I have pockets. many are very deep. I have my teeth cleaned every 3 to 4 months. I also have 3 implants. I use coconut oil 15 to 20 minutes for 2 weeks. my pockets have been stable for 10+ years. My hygienist noticed my gums looked better. But after measurement, even she was stunned. after 2 weeks of use my pockets were dramatically better than my previous cleaning 3 months before. . averaging almost 3. before, closer to 5. Now I haven’t seen whiter teeth, yet. and no other benefits. but this is a substantial change. I was told nothing can be done about pockets except frequent cleanings. I wondering if my next cleaning will see even further movement?
    Maybe just maybe dentists don’t like this because it will mean less business?

  28. Here is my story. About 2 weeks ago, I went to the dentist for the first time in a long time. (I’m not a doctor kind of person)
    I was told that I had a SEVERE build up of bacteria under my gums and would need an in depth procedure to remove it that would entail numbing the mouth and going under the gums with a scraper. With insurance this would cost me over $120 which I can not spare, so… Hence the choice to find a safe alternative to bacteria removal. I began a search online and found out about OP. Knowing that I also have a heavy build up of tartar, I chose to tweak the OP experience and not only use coconut oil to swish, but I mix coconut oil and baking soda to brush my teeth. In the couple of weeks that I have been doing this, I have brushed my teeth a handful of times. (I’ve never been a 3 times a day brusher)
    But I have already noticed a difference. Before, when I would floss I would get this horrendous smell and taste from each tooth, obviously from the bacteria, however, as of tonight when I flossed, only one tooth produced that smell! Sounds gross, I know, but for me it was a milestone. I have also noticed that my gums are not bleeding as bad since starting this. I have thought of adding a touch of peppermint oil to the mixture to balance out the salty taste of the baking soda, but otherwise I am THRILLED with my results thus far!

  29. Hi doc thank you for the info i am a 75 yr old female with receding gums & my enamel is pretty much gone (over brushing) for a life time. I have been oil pulling x-2 daily for about a month now , & my gums are growing back, not as fast as I would like, but improved , but my teeth seem even more brown than before I started. Any commment is appreciated . Is am very worried about my teeth as I have to sleep with a oral appliance for sleep apnea. C-pap does not give relief
    Thank you
    ,

  30. Are you serious? 20 ***MINUTES***? Heck, no way! I will stick to my three brushings and two flossings a day! I can handle 20 seconds, but damned if I have 20 minutes daily to swish. First of all, it is a bloody long time to do something that can get tedious, irritating and rather unpleasant. Secondly, some of that can go down your throat considering how long you need to do this. Is there a much shorter minimum time?

    • you can do other things besides just swish. like watch TV. or reply to comments on the internet. you build up to 20 minutes. 5 minutes to start. or don’t nobody is making you. even though I had provable results after only 2 weeks I am the only one in my family doing it.

  31. That’s what I thought at first Harry until I tried it! I found that the oil didn’t make me gag as I thought it would, and I started with five minutes to see what happened. When I realised the experience wasn’t as bad as I thought, I increased the time slowly over a few days and gave myself jobs to do to distract myself. The result? My gums don’t bleed any more (and I have been cleaning my teeth thoroughly two to three times a day and using dental sticks for years!). Please do give it a try because it really works and it’s not unpleasant at all!

    • My dentist was concerned about my receding gums, even though he could see that I was doing a great job flossing and brushing. On my sister’s recommendation, I started oil pulling (with coconut oil) 20 minutes three mornings a week (during and after my shower). When I went back for my next dental appointment, I did not mention the oil pulling until the hygienist started commenting on the improvement in my gums. I have been doing it for a couple of years now, and my dentist is a big fan.

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