Whiten your teeth, safeguard against gingivitis and plaque, kill bad breath, cure TMJ and increase your energy? All this from swishing vegetable oil inside your mouth? Oil pulling has some pretty bold claims.
While this ancient Ayurvedic practice may not be as holistically life-changing as some practitioners report, there are studies that back up its oral health benefits.
What is oil pulling?
Oil pulling is an oral therapy that required one to swish one tablespoon of vegetable oil (coconut, sesame, sunflower, etc.) inside your mouth for as long as 20 minutes, ideally on an empty stomach. Once the oil turns to a milky white color, which means the oil has leached the toxins from your mouth, you spit it out.
Oil pulling benefits
Oil pulling is believed to help protect against gingivitis, plaque and other bacteria, including microorganisms that cause halitosis (bad breath). Some people say it helps relieve TMJ symptoms, and some even report increased energy and stronger immune-resistance from the practice.
While there are no scientific studies supporting claims outside of benefiting oral health, many studies have shown oil pulling to help reduce harmful bacteria and microbes inside the mouth. In one study, oil pulling was shown to be a safe and effective alternative to chlorhexidine (a harsh antiseptic oral rinse) in eliminating bacteria.
Studies have tied oil pulling to:
- Fighting halitosis (bad breath)
- Reducing plaque and gingivitis (especially when using coconut oil)
- Boosting gum health
- Preventing cavities
- Eliminating harmful bacteria inside the mouth
While more research is needed to back up all of the holistic health claims of oil pulling, it can be argued that this ancient practice is indeed a benefit to overall health and wellness since oral health does affect the body in the long-term.
How does oil pulling work?
According to Jessica Emery, DMD, “Most microorganisms inhabiting the mouth consist of a single cell. Cells are covered with a lipid, or fatty, membrane, which is the cell's skin. When these cells come into contact with oil, a fat, they naturally adhere to each other."
Essentially, the microorganisms are pulled into the oil, which is why it’s important to spit the oil out and rinse with water before consuming food or drinks afterwards.
The history of oil pulling
Oil pulling has roots in ancient Ayurvedic medicine, a traditional Indian system dating back 3000 to 5000 years ago. Originally known as Kavala Graha or Gandusha, oil pulling was said to balance the energies inside the body, thereby attaining its holistic health benefits.
How to oil pull
1. Choose your oil
One of the most commonly used oils is sesame because of its roots in Indian culture, where sesame oil is abundant. Sesame oil is rich in healthy fats and contains the skin-soothing vitamin E, making it a great anti-inflammatory for the gums. Sunflower oil is another great bacteria-fighting oil, but coconut oil is fast becoming a popular option for oil pulling because of its lauric acid content, which offers potent anti-microbial properties. Coconut oil (as well as sesame and olive oil) were even shown to help prevent tooth decay. Feel free to switch up the oils you use to see which one you like best!
2. Swish, swish and spit!
Spoon out one tablespoon of your desired oil and swish it inside your mouth, through your teeth and gums for five to 20 minutes. If you’ve never oil pulled before, we recommend starting with five minutes because 20 minutes can exhaust your jaw muscles if you aren’t used to it. Avoid swallowing any of the oil as you don’t want to ingest any of the toxins being drawn out. When your timer goes off, spit out the oil into the garbage, so you don’t risk clogging your kitchen or bathroom sink with a bunch of oil over time – yuck!
3. Finish with a rinse, floss and brush
Rinse your mouth out with water (saltwater if it’s available), floss and then brush your teeth for a sparkling clean mouth! Repeat oil pulling every few days and work your way up to three times per week to reap all those great oral health benefits!
*Oil pulling is meant as an added benefit to your overall health and wellness, and should never replace any step in your oral health routine such as brushing, flossing, or regular trips to the dentist.
Tips to fit oil pulling into your oral healthcare routine
Adding oil pulling to your oral health routine can be an extra way to get your mouth clean and free of unwanted bacteria, so it’s worth the added effort of fitting it in!
Start with five minutes per swishing session, then work your way up to 10, 15 and 20 minutes! To help pass the time more quickly, try multitasking while you’re oil pulling. Do the dishes, listen to a podcast, read a chapter of a book, or you can even try to learn a new language – all while improving your oral health.