Oil pulling is a practice based on ancient Ayurvedic medicine where you swish coconut oil around your mouth for improved dental health. Other oils are occasionally used, such as sunflower oil or sesame oil.
The science behind oil pulling is primarily based on coconut oil’s known properties. Coconut oil has natural anti-inflammatory and antibacterial benefits that help balance your oral microbiome and discourage tooth decay or oral diseases.
Double-blind clinical studies have not been performed to show whether oil pulling actually holds these benefits put into practice. A recent meta-analysis shows that coconut oil reduces bad bacteria in the mouth but not dental plaque. However, a 2020 systematic review showed that coconut oil did reduce plaque.
Keep reading for a holistic but science-based perspective on oil pulling, explained by a biological dentist with decades of experience.
The Benefits of Oil Pulling
What are the benefits of oil pulling for your teeth? The evidence-based benefits of oil pulling include:
- Reducing bad bacteria
- Improving bad breath
- Preventing gingivitis
- Fighting tooth decay
Oil pulling can reduce bacteria in your mouth.
Coconut oil possesses natural antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties which help reduce the harmful bacteria in your mouth.
Swishing coconut oil around your mouth not only gets rid of bacteria, but it also gets rid of food particles stuck in between your teeth that could lead to further bacterial growth.
Since these bad bacteria contribute to gum disease and tooth decay, coconut oil pulling should reduce your risk for these oral conditions.
Oil pulling can improve bad breath.
Oil pulling freshens breath twice over! Halitosis is caused by many things, but a primary root cause is bad bacteria in your oral cavity.
When you oil pull, you may be directly reducing the foul-smelling bacteria in your mouth and on your tongue, and you’re also adding a pleasant coconut scent to your breath.
Oil pulling can help prevent gingivitis.
Gingivitis is gum disease, largely caused by dental plaque that gets under your gum line and isn’t brushed away. Oil pulling may decrease risk of gingivitis, bleeding gums, and sensitive gums.
Proper brushing technique should improve gum health and prevent gingivitis, but oil pulling should also help kill or remove bacteria under your gum line. In this way, oil pulling helps prevent gingivitis.
Oil pulling may fight cavities.
Also called tooth decay or dental caries, cavities are holes or divots in your teeth caused by harmful bacteria that live in your mouth and on your tooth surface. Coconut oil may actually help fight cavities.
Regular brushing, high-quality toothpaste, and flossing should disrupt and get rid of plaque buildup. However, oil pulling is a great adjunctive treatment — something you add to your oral hygiene routine without subtracting something else important.
Don’t stop brushing your teeth twice a day, but oil pulling is great for getting rid of cavity-causing plaque.
Can oil pulling reverse cavities? Oil pulling can help prevent cavities by removing harmful bacteria, and it may stop cavities from getting worse. However, it takes minerals like fluoride, hydroxyapatite, calcium, and phosphorus to reverse cavities by remineralizing your teeth — and only if you catch the cavities early enough.
What Oil Pulling Won’t Do
Oil pulling is called Kavala or Gandusha in the Ayurvedic text Charaka Samhita as a cure for many diseases such as migraines, diabetes, and asthma. Though oil pulling may not achieve everything Indian folk medicine claimed it could, there is still science behind some benefits.
Ten years ago, most researchers and dental experts agreed coconut oil pulling probably doesn’t hurt but also doesn’t really help. Now the science has caught up, and more are convinced on the benefits of oil pulling.
However, there are still a few crazy claims out there, with no basis in science. Most of these rely on the vague benefit of detox. Here are some wild myths I’ve seen over the years concerning oil pulling:
- Your teeth look shinier. False.
- Oil pulling is teeth whitening.
- Toxins get drawn out throughout the day by oil pulling in the morning. False.
- Skin elasticity and skin glow increase. False.
- Acne and eczema go away. False.
- Hair growth, thickness, and shine improve. False.
- Your sinuses clear up. False.
- Oil pulling reduces insomnia. False. To be fair, sleep disorders like apnea might be caused by oral health problems which oil pulling could help improve.
- Your mouth dries out. False. Actually, chlorhexidine mouthwash has the side effect of dry mouth while coconut oil softens and hydrates the mouth.
Even though these claims are not backed up by scientific evidence, potential health benefits of oil pulling may extend beyond the mouth. Your oral health directly links to your whole-body health, and vice-versa.
Does oil pulling whiten teeth? Oil pulling does not directly whiten teeth. It may help to remove plaque which causes some discoloration, and it may lift minor stains off the tooth surface. However, coconut oil does not bleach the tooth like true teeth whitening techniques.
How to Oil Pull
- Scoop out 1 tablespoon of coconut oil. The best coconut oil is extra-virgin because it’s the richest in lauric acid, which gives the oil a lot of its beneficial properties.
- On an empty stomach, put solid coconut oil into your mouth. The coconut oil turns into a liquid in the warmth of your oral cavity.
- Aggressively swish the coconut oil around in your mouth and in between your teeth for 5-20 minutes. Avoid swallowing or gagging.
- Spit out the coconut oil into a trash can, not the sink. It will turn into a solid at room temperature, and you don’t want to clog your sink.
How often should you oil pull for your teeth? You should oil pull every morning for the health of your teeth.
Does it have to be coconut oil?
No, coconut oil is not the only oil you can oil pull with. Although coconut oil possesses strong anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, sesame oil, olive oil, or sunflower oil (all liquid oils, unlike coconut oil) are sometimes used instead.
Sesame oil is a popular alternative to coconut oil because of its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and pro-cardiovascular properties.
What type of oil is best for oil pulling? Coconut oil is the best for oil pulling, but sesame oil is a popular alternative if you cannot stand the taste or feel of coconut oil.
Can I oil pull with essential oils? Yes, you can oil pull with antibacterial essential oils such as tea tree oil, eucalyptus oil, and lemongrass oil. This can remove bad bacteria from your mouth, but the taste, smell, or mouthfeel may prove too strong to withstand for up to 20 minutes.
Incorporating Oil Pulling into Your Routine
If you have time in the morning, you should oil pull first thing — before flossing, before brushing your teeth, and before eating breakfast.
Should you brush your teeth after oil pulling? You should brush after oil pulling, not before. Brushing your teeth afterwards helps remove oily residue, as well as anything drawn out by the oil.
If you want to know more about how oil pulling fits into your unique situation, schedule an appointment with Rejuvenation Dentistry today. Our experts understand how your oral health routine can affect your whole-body health, and vice-versa.
- Peng, T. R., Cheng, H. Y., Wu, T. W., & Ng, B. K. (2022). Effectiveness of Oil Pulling for Improving Oral Health: A Meta-Analysis. In Healthcare (Vol. 10, No. 10, p. 1991). MDPI. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9602184/
- Woolley, J., Gibbons, T., Patel, K., & Sacco, R. (2020). The effect of oil pulling with coconut oil to improve dental hygiene and oral health: A systematic review. Heliyon, 6(8), e04789. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7475120/
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