This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD
Oil pulling is an ancient Ayurvedic method of oral hygiene that affects much more than just your teeth. Today we explore all things oil pulling, including the benefits, how to oil pull, and why you should probably add it to your daily routine.
What is Oil Pulling?
Oil pulling is an ancient Indian Ayurvedic practice that involves swishing oil in your mouth. The practice is said to pull bacteria, pathogens, and other unwanted particles from your mouth, trapping them in the oil, which is then spat out and discarded 1.
Typically, the ritual is performed first thing in the morning, on an empty stomach. Oil pulling has a wide range of health benefits that are not limited to the mouth. The mouth is one of the first entry points to the body, so improving oral hygiene has a powerful impact on whole-body health, too 2.
Although you can use any oil technically, coconut oil and sesame oil are the two most common types. We will explore the particular benefits of using high-quality coconut oil later on.
5 Benefits of Oil Pulling
1. Killing Harmful Mouth Bacteria
The human mouth is full of bacteria, some good, and some not so good. Approximately 350 types of bacteria are found in your mouth at any given time, and managing the ratio of good-to-bad bacteria is vital for maintaining the health of your oral microbiome 3.
An imbalance in favor of harmful mouth bacteria is associated with many oral health problems, including gum disease, bad breath, and tooth decay 4-6.
Although many people may think that this is what mouthwash is for, studies suggest that using oil pulling is much more effective than using a mouthwash product 7.
2. Help Prevent Cavities
Tooth decay, also known as a cavity, is a widespread problem. Among American adults aged 20 and older, about 90% have had at least one cavity 8! Cavities are caused by various factors that make up a ‘perfect storm,’ including nutritional deficiencies, poor oral hygiene, consuming too much sugar, and a build-up of harmful bacteria in the mouth (plaque) 4.
Studies show that oil pulling can help reduce the number of harmful bacteria in the mouth, mainly by reducing one of the most common bacteria that leads to plaque buildup and dental decay: Streptococcus mutans. Oil pulling is more effective at lowering Strep bacteria than using mouthwash 7.
3. Reduce Bad Breath
Halitosis, also known as bad breath, is another prevalent condition affecting about half of Americans 9. Common causes of bad breath include tongue coating (caused by a bacterial build-up), oral infections, poor oral hygiene, and gum disease.
Although the most common intervention is a mouthwash treatment that uses harsh ingredients like chlorhexidine, studies show that oil pulling has more success than mouthwash at reducing the types of bacteria that cause breath 10.
Not only is it more effective than using conventional mouthwash, but it is also safer. Mouthwash that contains antibacterial agents (like chlorhexidine or alcohol) can harm the good bacteria in the mouth and cause a microbial imbalance in the oral biome that can lead to many issues, including persistent bad breath 11.
4. Improve Gum Health
Gum inflammation, also known as gingivitis, is marked by swollen, tender, and bleeding gums. One of the significant causes of gingivitis is a build-up of bacterial plaque on the teeth 4.
Oil pulling is an effective remedy to gingivitis, especially when coconut oil is used. Coconut oil is a natural anti-inflammatory and gentle antibacterial agent. Studies highlight that you can notice the benefits of oil pulling in reducing gingivitis in as little as one week 12!
5. Whitening Teeth
Although there are currently no studies “proving” that oil pulling whitens teeth, it is one of the most commonly reported side-effects of this daily habit. Like all of the benefits mentioned above, it does require making oil pulling a routine and sticking to it at least four times per week.
With so many benefits, it seems like oil pulling is a no-brainer habit to add to your morning or evening routine. Plus, this habit is extremely cheap and easy to do!
How to Oil Pull
Oil pulling is a straightforward and affordable healthy habit. All you need is your oil, and about 20 minutes. The four simple steps to follow are: 13
- Pour or scoop out approximately one tablespoon of oil and place it in your mouth.
- Swish it in your mouth for about 20 minutes, “pulling” the oil in between your teeth and all-around your mouth (being mindful not to swallow any). The oil should turn from viscous to a much thinner, milky white substance (as it traps bacteria).
- Spit the oil into the trash or a special jar that you eventually discard properly.
- Rinse your mouth with warm salt water, or simply brush your teeth.
Oil pulling can be done every single day. In Ayurveda, it can be prescribed up to three times a day to help manage the symptoms of some illnesses. If you are new to oil pulling, you could start with less time and increase to 20 minutes over time (it can be quite the jaw workout!).
Oil pulling can also be performed by all ages, so long as the individual appropriately swishes without swallowing the oil. For this reason, it is not recommended for those under the age of five.
Does the Kind of Oil Matter?
Although technically, any oil could be used to oil pull, because all fat traps bacterial particles, not all oils are created equal. In Ayurvedic practices, the two most common oils used are sesame and coconut oil. Due to its potent anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, immunomodulating, and anti-inflammatory properties, coconut oil is a crowd favorite 14.
Using an essential oil can add extra benefit to your oil pulling session. Peppermint, for example, adds antibacterial properties and helps relieve pain 15. The peppermint flavor can also make the oil pulling much more palatable.
Our favorite oil for pulling is The Skinny Coconut Peppermint Oil.
Oil pulling is an ancient Indian technique that can help reduce the harmful bacteria in your mouth. As a result, many benefits include preventing cavities, reducing bad breath, and improving gum health. Many also report whiter teeth. The key is a consistent practice of about 20 minutes of daily swishing, the first thing on an empty stomach. Although you can use many kinds of oils, coconut oil is one of the best due to its added anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties!
Medical Disclaimer: This article is based upon the opinions of Revelation Health. The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of Revelation Health and associates. This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD for accuracy of the information provided, but Revelation Health encourages you to make your own health care decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified health care professional.
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2 “Oral Health: A Window to Your Overall Health.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 4 June 2019, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/dental/art-20047475.
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8 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Oral Health Surveillance Report: Trends in Dental Caries and Sealants, Tooth Retention, and Edentulism, United States, 1999–2004 to 2011–2016. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, US Dept of Health and Human Services; 2019. https://www.cdc.gov/oralhealth/publications/OHSR-2019-index.html
9 Aylıkcı, Bahadır Uğur, and Hakan Colak. “Halitosis: From diagnosis to management.” Journal of natural science, biology, and medicine vol. 4,1 (2013): 14-23. doi:10.4103/0976-9668.107255
10 Asokan, Sharath et al. “Effect of oil pulling on halitosis and microorganisms causing halitosis: a randomized controlled pilot trial.” Journal of the Indian Society of Pedodontics and Preventive Dentistry vol. 29,2 (2011): 90-4. doi:10.4103/0970-4388.84678
11 Lin, Steven. Through ancestral nutrition, et al. “Does Mouthwash Kill Good Bacteria? – Dr. Steve Lin.” Dr Steven Lin, 20 July 2018, www.drstevenlin.com/mouthwash-kills-good-bacteria/.
12 Peedikayil, Faizal C et al. “Effect of coconut oil in plaque related gingivitis - A preliminary report.” Nigerian medical journal : journal of the Nigeria Medical Association vol. 56,2 (2015): 143-7. doi:10.4103/0300-1652.153406
13 Shanbhag, Vagish Kumar L. “Oil pulling for maintaining oral hygiene - A review.” Journal of traditional and complementary medicine vol. 7,1 106-109. 6 Jun. 2016, doi:10.1016/j.jtcme.2016.05.004
14 Widianingrum, Desy Cahya et al. “Antibacterial and immunomodulatory activities of virgin coconut oil (VCO) against Staphylococcus aureus.” Heliyon vol. 5,10 e02612. 20 Oct. 2019, doi:10.1016/j.heliyon.2019.e02612
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