Benefits, How-To, and Side Effects

Oil pulling is an ancient Ayurvedic dental technique that has gained attention for its many purported health benefits, with some claiming that gargling with coconut oil can help treat cavities, eliminate bad breath, and even whiten teeth. But is it safe and effective?

When it comes to maintaining proper oral health, the focus is often on brushing, flossing, and using mouthwash. But is oil pulling worth adding to these dentist-approved steps?

“This process is thought to help remove harmful bacteria and plaque from the mouth,” explains Michael J. Wei, DDS, a Manhattan cosmetic dentist and smile specialist. It “may improve overall oral health” in the process.

Meet the experts: Michael J. Wei, DDSa Manhattan cosmetic dentist and smile specialist; and Jonson Gastelum, DMD., TheraBreath Partner and General and Cosmetic Dentist, based in Scottsdale, AZ

Next, your dentist will explain in detail what oil pulling is, the potential benefits of adding this practice to your oral health routine, and how to perform oil pulling.

What is oil pulling?

Wei explained that oil pulling is an “ancient Ayurvedic dental technique” that involves swishing oil in the mouth and is thought to help clean teeth and gums and detoxify.

The most commonly used oil for oil pulling is coconut oil, but other cooking oils such as sesame or sunflower oil can also be used. “It is believed that this oil attracts and traps bacteria, toxins and other particles in the mouth,” Wei said. “When you swirl the oil, it mixes with your saliva and becomes thin and white.”

Benefits of oil pulling

Wei said that while there isn't much scientific evidence to support claims that oil extractions are healthy for teeth, some purported benefits may include:

Improve oral health

Since oil pulling is thought to help remove harmful bacteria, plaque, and toxins from the mouth, the practice may help improve overall oral health.

Breath is fresher

By removing harmful bacteria from your mouth, oil pulling may reduce bad breath because there are fewer odor-causing bacteria.

teeth whiter

There is anecdotal evidence that oil pulling may help naturally whiten teeth and remove surface stains, but further research is needed to confirm these claims.

Reduce oral health problems

Oil pulling is said to remove plaque, bacteria and toxins and is thought to help treat conditions such as gum disease, cavities and tooth sensitivity, but more research is needed in this area.

organic coconut oil
Nutiva Organic Coconut Oil
Image source: Nutiva
coconut oil
Garden of Life Coconut Oil
Image source: Garden of Life
Organic Virgin Coconut Oil
Dr. Bronner's Organic Virgin Coconut Oil
Image Credit: Dr. Bronner

Oil pulling side effects

The risks of oil pulling are generally minimal, says Jossen Gastelum, a general and cosmetic dentist at TheraBreath Partner in Scottsdale, Arizona. He noted that some people may also experience jaw soreness from vigorously gargling for the recommended 20 minutes or so.

“I'm open to it, but I think the problem is that in order to get the maximum desired effect, you have to rinse your mouth continuously for about 20 minutes,” Gastelum said. “This is inconsistent with the daily lives of most modern patients.”

Oil pulling method

For best results, Wei recommends doing oil pulling in the morning before eating and brushing your teeth. Here are his tips for making the most of this practice:

  1. Choose your oil. The first step is to choose a “high-quality oil,” Wei says, recommending coconut oil because of its “pleasant taste and antibacterial properties.” Other popular oils include sesame oil, olive oil, and sunflower oil. For best results, Wei recommends choosing organic, unrefined oils.
  2. Swish the oil around your mouth. Using about 1 tablespoon of the oil of your choice, start swishing it around your mouth for about 15 to 20 minutes. “Don't gargle or swallow the oil, as it will fill your mouth with bacteria and toxins,” Wei advises (which defeats the purpose). Then, spit the oil into the trash can (not the sink to avoid clogging the pipes).
  3. Rinse and scrub. After spitting out the oil, Wei recommends gargling with warm water to remove the oil residue, then brushing your teeth and continuing with the rest of your oral hygiene routine.

Should I try oil pulling?

Ultimately, it's up to you, as long as you maintain your oral hygiene. “It's important to note that oil pulling should not replace regular brushing and flossing, but can be used as a complementary practice to maintaining optimal oral hygiene,” explains Wei.

It’s also important to consider the type of oil you use. If you know that you are intolerant to a particular oil, it may be best to try an alternative or abandon the practice altogether.

“As always, if you have any health concerns, talk to your doctor before starting any new healthy habits,” Gastelum added.

Does oil pulling help?

Currently, there is insufficient evidence to support the anecdotal claims that this practice benefits dental health.

It's also important to note that the American Dental Association (ADA) currently does not recommend this practice 'due to a lack of scientific evidence,' meaning there are not enough reliable long-term studies to prove the benefits of this practice,” Gastelum explains. While oil pulling may still have dental health benefits, according to the ADA, oil pulling is not widely believed to provide all of the benefits it claims.

Shanan Zizi's avatar

Shannen Zitz is the Assistant Editor prevention, She covers all things lifestyle, health, beauty, and relationships.Previously served as editorial assistant prevention, She graduated from SUNY Cortland with a BA in English. When she's not reading or writing, you might find her frequenting skincare and cosmetics forums on Reddit or hogging the squat rack at the gym.

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