[I'm always in search of effective and affordable home remedies, and while I've heard many great things about the health benefits of oil pulling (basically swishing oil in your mouth), to be perfectly honest, every time I've tried it it's made me gag. SO…. I've asked my fellow health blogger, Mindy Wood, to share what she learned in her quest to find out – does oil pulling work? Enjoy!]
I have to admit, I had no real reason to try oil pulling. It was more of an experiment based on the fact that it sounded cool, and that I'm naturally skeptical about anything that is trendy. So basically, I just wanted to know if the hype about oil pulling was a big pile of boloney or not.
What is oil pulling?
Oil pulling is old, I mean really old. With recorded origins as far as 5000 years ago, oil pulling is an ancient Ayurvedic method of dental and systemic cleansing where you swish oil in the mouth to help pull out the bacteria and toxins. Interesting … I tend to appreciate things that have been around for longer than time itself (hence, maybe not as much of a passing trend as I thought).
Ayurvedic science says that different parts of the tongue are connected to different parts of the body, so, oil pulling eliminates toxins from the whole body through the tongue. The idea is that fat soluble toxins (like heavy metals, parasites, pesticides, preservatives, and additives) are attracted to and absorbed by, the oil because it is lipophilic (meaning oil attracts other oil and fat). Cool.
So, I decided to give it a try without any idea what benefits I might experience. I guess I was just thinking I'd be less full of toxins, which is always good, right?
Choosing an oil for oil pulling
Sesame oil is the traditional oil choice for oil pulling and is the oil choice that most studies are based on, however, you can use just about any oil, preferably organic, non-GMO, and cold pressed.
Many people choose sesame oil since it is the traditional oil used for oil pulling and it has a gentler detoxifying effect. Another popular oil is sunflower oil which has a milder taste than sesame but has a similar detoxifying element.
I chose coconut oil because it contains lauric acid which is anti microbial. Also, coconut oil has been proven to kill most strains of Streptococcus bacteria (“strep”) so, oil pulling with coconut oil packs an added punch of healing. It's also already in my kitchen cabinet, so, no added shopping trips. (source)
Does oil pulling work for oral health?
I’ve tried oil pulling a few times. Though I haven’t been able to keep up with it every day or for weeks at a time, I have still seen benefits. I noticed whiter teeth after only a few days, however, I don’t drink sugary drinks which I think helps any whitening attempt work faster.
My overall oral health seems to have improved (no more funk mouth in the morning). I also haven't had any cavities in years, though I can't say that is directly related to oil pulling.
And science backs up my experience. It turns out that oil pulling can reduce harmful bacteria in the mouth and reduce cavities. In a 2008 study, oil pulling (using sesame oil) caused a reduction in the number of Streptococcus Mutans in plaque in 1-2 weeks. The chlorhexidine mouthwash removed more, but comes with yucky side effects such as staining of teeth and alteration in taste perception. (source)
In another study, 100% of participants saw reduction in susceptibility to cavities, 50% of which saw significant reduction. This change has been attributed to the reduction in bacteria in the mouth from oil pulling. So, maybe my lack of cavities is related to oil pulling?
In yet another study, oil pulling reduced plaque and signs of gingivitis just as well as the traditional mouthwash.
Oil pulling was also found to be just as effective as mouthwash in reducing bad breath (and still without the yucky side effects of the mouthwash). (source)
Other benefits of oil pulling
Another benefit I saw was some improvement of the runny nose and eczema I get when I’m not careful to avoid dairy and gluten. This was a bit of a surprise to me because I didn't know there were benefits beyond oral health when I started oil pulling.
According to the traditional Ayurvedic text Charaka Samhita, oil pulling may cure as many as 30 systemic illnesses including arthritis, diabetes, colitis, Crohn's disease, constipation, hemorrhoids, asthma and bronchitis. Some other benefits include:
- Whiter teeth
- Reduced headaches and hangovers
- Improved acne and eczema
- Reduced inflammation
- Hormone regulation
- Improved heart, kidney, and liver function
- Eased sinus congestion and allergies
- Less back and neck pain
And it makes sense that oil pulling could cure, prevent, or treat these conditions since disease starts in the mouth and a direct link has already been found between oral health and diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and osteoporosis. (source)
It also makes sense that if oil pulling kills bacteria and the presence of bacteria causes inflammation then oil pulling would have an anti inflammatory effect and could then ease symptoms associated with diseases that are related to inflammation.
How to do oil pulling
Oil pulling is pretty simple actually:
- Choose an oil. This is the coconut oil I use. In the case of solid coconut oil, it will melt quickly once it's in your mouth.
- Swish for up to 20 minutes. If you get tired, swish more gently or take small breaks. It’s best to oil pull first thing in the morning before breakfast and teeth brushing (many people do it in the shower), but any time of day is fine and beneficial.
- Spit into the trash. Don’t spit it into the drain (or on the ground like I did), especially if you are using coconut oil, because it could cause a clog.
Start with just five minutes and work your way up to the full twenty. Many people (including myself) experience some detox side effects after beginning oil pulling.
My side effects included a mild headache, just feeling sort of icky and looking washed out. I took it as a good sign that my body was getting rid of toxins, but it’s hard to deal with feeling sick to start feeling better, ya know? So, when I backed off to five minutes of oil pulling, I didn’t feel sick. I then slowly increased oil pulling time until I reached the full twenty minutes without detox side effects.
I also noticed that after the detox effects wore off, I felt better than I did before oil pulling.
Ready to try oil pulling for yourself? This is the coconut oil I recommend.
Does oil pulling work for you?
Let us know in the comments!
After getting caught up in the go, go, go, and buy, buy, buy, of modern living, I found myself unhappy and exhausted. I soon embraced a slower life and now write about simple living at PurposefullySimple.com.
Is it safe to start oil pulling when early pregnancy? If I started at 5 minutes and worked up would that make a difference? In the past I have had cavities during pregnancy and am hoping this would prevent it!
Mindy Wood says
Most sources say it is safe. However, you don’t want to do any significant detoxing while pregnant. If I were pregnant and trying oil pulling for the first time I would start slow with just 5 minutes and be vigilant about how I was feeling and then work my way up to the full 20 minutes. I feel like oil pulling during pregnancy is much better than getting a filling during pregnancy 🙂 Hope that helps!
Do you need to melt the coconut oil first? How much do you put in your mouth? Thanks.
Emily Bartlett says
Nope! You can just put it in your mouth and it will quickly melt at body temperature.
ive always wanted to try oil pulling but have heard mixed reviews about possible damage to fillings or inlays. In your research, did you find info one way or the other?
I lost a filling and it loosened my crown after oil pulling for several months. I stopped after I felt my crown move during an oil pulling routine. I did not realize that I had lost a filling for quite a while until examining my teeth several months after I stopped. I realized that the “crunch” was not a piece of food, but was my filling. ???? I ultimately had to get a new root canal and crown put on because it became infected again.
I haven’t been able to find much online discussing oil pulling with dental work so maybe it is seeing your fillings/crowns as a foreign substance that needs to be removed. So, if you have already had dental work I would not recommend it.
On the other hand, if you have not had dental work I believe that it is very beneficial. I noticed that my teeth got whiter immediately, had fresher breath overall, and felt clean after pulling.
gina sando says
I have been oil pulling for the past week so i have to say this is a timely article. Do i have to use virgin coconut oil or can i use organic refined coconut oil? Call me frugal, but I am spitting the stuff out and that’s pretty expensive.
Mindy Wood says
Virgin is best but refined will work 🙂
I just started oil pulling about a month ago, and I love it! I used to get occasional headaches, but since doing oil pulling I haven’t gotten any. I’ve also noticed that I can think more clearly and sharply, and I think my teeth are whiter. I put off trying it during pregnancy since my gag reflex was so strong 😉 I did start while nursing, and started slowly, just 5 minutes a time, 2 days a week, and worked up from there. I didn’t notice any detox symptoms this way.
How much do you use?
If oil pulling makes you gag, try using less oil. That’s what I had to do.
Also, if you can’t tolerate coconut oil, try sesame. I even use olive oil in a pinch if I’ve run out of coconut oil (it’s definitely a stronger flavor, but it still leaves my mouth feeling clean).
I don’t believe there are any problems with oil pulling while pregnant… just don’t swallow it.
I’d like to add one other benefit to the list. I’ve had pretty bad TMJ for years, and had had to have my jaw adjusted by my chiropractor. Since I’ve started oil pulling, I’ve needed fewer and fewer adjustments to my jaw.
I’ve also definitely noticed that it helps with my sinus issues, and a cavity I’ve had hasn’t grown (I’m sure that, with diet change, it will go away completely). Even if it helps with just a couple of the things that are listed, it’s definitely worth giving it a try.
Love this article:) is it safe to oil pull if you have mercury fillings?
I’d also like to know if this is safe in later pregnancy and with mercury fillings. Thanks!!
I’ve been doing oil pulling with mostly coconut oil for over 2 years now – every morning – and I am almost 62 years old. My teeth always have that “newly cleaned” feel that you get after a dentist cleans your teeth. I notice the plaque buildup is nonexistant and so is the gingivitus that I had to deal with occasionally. I always scrape my tongue first and then swish for 20 minutes. It’s become a life long habit for me…and one I definitely recommend…
Yes, how much do you use?
Just want to share my own experience with oil pulling, in case it helps someone else. I tried many times over many years, using sesame oil, but I just couldn’t get used to it and it left strange streaks on my teeth. So every time I gave up on it.
Last year, at age 38, I was shocked when a routine cleaning revealed about 10 cavities that I didn’t even know where there. I’ve been having lots of health issues – hormone imbalances, painful periods, insomnia, fatigue, heart palpitations – so it should not have come as a surprise that my teeth were suddenly falling apart also. Not liking the idea of having holes drilled in my teeth for fillings, I started oil pulling religiously, at least 2 times per day and sometimes more. I used coconut oil this time. And once again, it left some strange streaks (discolorations) on my teeth – it was embarrassing and I didn’t know what to do about it. The discolorations were really obvious and I was afraid it would hurt me professionally. I bought a dental pick and scraped my teeth myself. (I would NOT recommend anyone doing this; I should have just gone to the dentist for another cleaning, but I was afraid they’d pressure me into getting fillings.) The discoloration scraped off just fine and has not returned… so I have no idea what that was all about, but it’s happened every time I tried oil pulling.
After nearly a year I finally went back to the dentist and reluctantly agreed to let them fill about half of the cavities since I was having some pain and cold sensitivity. Big mistake, in my opinion, because after the fillings it still feels exactly the same. I spent a ton on money and my teeth still ache and are sensitive to cold.
On the bright side, though, the dentist said I have absolutely no sign of gingivitis – none whatsoever. I attribute that to consistent oil pulling. My teeth are also stay fairly white now. And to my surprise, I really LOVE how oil pulling feels now that I’m used to it. My teeth feel so clean and slick after I pull for 20 minutes. I always brush afterwards, but honestly sometimes it doesn’t even feel like I need to. The gunk that builds up on them during the day just “slides” right off after pulling for a while.
I can’t say that it’s helped my cavities at all – I like to think it’s slowed the decay considerably, so that I can get by a while longer without more fillings… but I can’t know that for sure. But I plan to keep doing it for the rest of my life. I cannot imagine not doing it. I wish I could’ve gotten used to it years ago… maybe I wouldn’t have developed so many cavities in the first place.
Sorry this was so long. I hope it helps someone.
I use one spoonful of coconut oil. It’s plenty because it mixes with the saliva while you swish. If I start with more than a spoonful, my mouth actually ends up too full and I have to spit a little out to continue swishing for the whole 20 minutes. Sometimes I lose track of time and swish longer, like 30 or 40 minutes. I don’t think it hurts anything to do longer. I pull while I’m doing chores, on the computer, watching TV, anything. My family is used to it now and they know I can’t talk for that amount of time. We’ve gotten good at hand signals for communicating.
My husband has mercury fillings and he oil pulls regularly. To be perfectly honest, some of his mercury fillings have come out (about 2 or 3 just spontaneously fell out) and he decide NOT to have them replaced (meaning there are no fillings there at this time). We can’t know if the oil pulling had anything to do with the filings coming loose; maybe it would have happened anyway… those filings had been in a long time already. We also can’t know how the oil pulling affects the exposed cavities. I have unfilled cavities, too. All we know is he’s not experiencing any pain and he doesn’t want any more fillings in his mouth, so he’s leaving them as is, and he continues to pull.
I started oil pulling with organic unrefined coconut oil last Fall. I did it faithfully every am for 2 weeks for 20 mins. I ended up vomitting (for no apparent reason after lunch one day). I realized a few days later that it was my body detoxing from oil pulling. It goes to show you how much ‘stuff’ was in my body that I needed rid of. I have a few mercury fillings from years ago. I’m wondering if it’s safe to oil pull with these kinds of fillings. I had stopped for several months after that incident and am oil pulling less frequently (once a week at 15 mins) and have found that I have only vomitted once. My teeth feel cleaner AND are definitely whiter. YAY!
Thanks for sharing about oil pulling with such concise information! I learned about oil pulling from my holistic dentist who recommended it after my cleaning. I also found that I’ve had to slowly work my way up to 20 minutes.
Wow thank you for the scientific research articles to back up the oil pulling method! I’m not the type that asks for “scientific backup” for natural alternative medicine because I believe in the benefits they bring- but it’s useful to actually have research articles when I talk to people about oil pulling because it’s easier to convince them that way, haha ;D
I have sarcoidosis, fibromyalgia, and osteoarthritis. I have to take a lot of medication, including an anti-cancer drug called methotrexate which is used in higher doses in chemotherapy. I don’t have cancer. Because I am taking methotrexate I am immuno-suppressed. Would it be ok for me to try oil pulling? Also I gag really easily, would that be a problem with coconut oil pulling? Thanks for your help.
Emily Bartlett says
Hi Annie, as I don’t have any experience with these issues in relation to oil pulling, I really couldn’t tell you whether it would work for you. I would suggest discussing this with your health care practitioner in order to get a clear answer.
I have constant stomach problems (acid reflux and heartburn ) since I started pulling it has subsided. It is such a relief to sleep at night with out pain. Of course my mouth feels great as well.