About two weeks ago, I wrote an article about coconut oil – an awesome tropical oil with many health benefits.
A few people commented that they use coconut oil for something called Oil Pulling – which is kind of like using an oil as a mouthwash.
Apparently, there are quite a few studies that support this process and a lot of people swear by it.
It is claimed to whiten your teeth, make your breath fresher and lead to massive improvements in oral health.
I have now been doing this every morning for about 10 days… and I am impressed.
What is Oil Pulling and How Does it Work?
Oil pulling involves swishing oil around the mouth and has been used for thousands of years as an Indian folk remedy. In order to oil pull, you put a tablespoon of oil in your mouth, then swish it around for 15-20 minutes. The main benefit of doing this is that it reduces the number of harmful bacteria in the mouth.
There are actually thousands of different types of bacteria in the mouth. Some of them are friendly, others are not. The bacteria in the mouth create a “biofilm” on the teeth – a thin layer that they use to adhere to the surface. This is what we know as “plaque.”
Having some plaque on your teeth is normal, but if it gets out of hand it can cause all sorts of problems, including bad breath, yellow teeth, gum inflammation, gingivitis, and cavities. The way oil pulling works is simple. When you swish the oil around your mouth, the bacteria “get stuck” in it and dissolve in the liquid oil. Basically, you remove a large amount of the bacteria and plaque in your mouth each time you do this.
I Personally Prefer Coconut Oil
Traditionally, the Indian folk remedy used other oils, such as sesame oil or sunflower oil. Oil pulling should work with pretty much any oil you choose, but I prefer coconut oil because it has many health benefits.
The Lauric Acid (one of the fatty acids in coconut oil) is also proven to be antimicrobial… it can kill bacteria, viruses, and fungi (1, 2). The taste of coconut oil is also fairly pleasant compared to other oils. I found it rather disgusting at first having my mouth full of oil, but I got used to it after a few days.
Now let’s look at a few studies on oil pulling…
Oil Pulling Can Reduce Harmful Bacteria in The Mouth
Streptococcus Mutans is one of the main bacteria in the mouth and a key player in plaque buildup and tooth decay. In a study from 2008 with 20 boys, oil pulling (using sesame oil) caused a reduction in the number of Streptococcus Mutans in the plaque in as little as 2 weeks (3).
It was not as effective as a Chlorhexidine mouthwash, but much cheaper and MUCH less nasty.
Oil Pulling Can Reduce Plaque and Gingivitis
Gingivitis is caused by inflammation of the gums and happens when the immune system starts attacking the bacteria in the plaque.
Another study compared oil pulling and chlorhexidine in adolescents with plaque-induced gingivitis. Both oil pulling and chlorhexidine mouthwash were effective against gingivitis (4).
Oil Pulling Can Reduce Bad Breath
Bad breath, otherwise known as halitosis, is in many cases (but not all) caused by the smell of chemicals and gases produced by bacteria in the mouth. If you can get rid of some of these bacteria, you reduce bad breath.
In a third study of 20 adolescents, oil pulling therapy significantly reduced all markers for bad breath and was just as effective as chlorhexidine mouthwash (5).
How to Oil Pull
Oil pulling is incredibly simple and effective.
Here’s how to do it:
1. Put about a tablespoon of oil in your mouth.
2. Swish the oil around your mouth for about 15-20 minutes.
3. Spit out the oil, then brush your teeth.
If you use coconut oil like me, then you may have to chew on the oil for a minute or so to let it melt, because it is solid at room temperature. It is best to do this on an empty stomach before you brush your teeth. I prefer to do it while I take a shower in the morning.
I put the oil in my mouth, swish it around while in the shower and try to “push” and “pull” the oil between my teeth. When I get out of the shower I spit out the oil into the trash or toilet (not the sink… it can clog), rinse my mouth with water and then brush my teeth.
There is no need to use a lot of force here. If oil pulling causes pain in your facial muscles, then just relax a bit. Try using less oil next time and don’t swish it around too forcefully.
What to Expect
I’ve been doing this for about 10 days now. I’ve definitely noticed that my breath is fresher and my teeth look a lot cleaner… both whiter and shinier. I’ve never had any dental problems, but I can see how this could have benefits for people that have them.
There are a lot of wild claims about oil pulling online and I don’t believe all of them. However, oil pulling IS effective at reducing the harmful bacteria in your mouth and improving oral and dental health.
Given that inflammation can cause all sorts of health problems, it does make sense that reducing inflammation in the gums and mouth could lead to benefits for overall health as well. Perhaps this is the reason why many people report improvements in health issues that really have nothing to do with the mouth.