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Oil pulling is an ancient practice with roots in traditional Indian medicine. It involves swishing or “pulling” oil (such as sesame, olive, or coconut oil) in the mouth, similar to mouthwash.
Oil pulling, especially with extra virgin coconut oil, has become more popular in recent years as a supplement to regular oral hygiene.
The most significant benefits of oil pulling may include:
Some evidence suggests that oil pulling may help fight oral bacteria.3
One study compared people using chlorhexidine (a mouthwash commonly prescribed by dentists) for a minute with people who swished with coconut oil for 10 minutes. The results found that both groups saw a reduction in bacteria that contribute to tooth decay.4
Coconut oil, in particular, may help fight cavity-causing bacteria. About half of the fat content of coconut oil is lauric acid, which is known to have antimicrobial properties.5
A 2019 study compared coconut oil with chlorhexidine mouthwash. It found that both had similar results in preventing plaque regrowth.6
Coconut oil also caused less staining than the mouthwash.6 A study from 2011, using sesame oil, had similar findings.7
Coconut oil may be an effective and less harsh alternative to pharmaceutical products like chlorhexidine.
Oil pulling may help prevent or reduce bad breath. One study found that people who had been oil pulling every day for two weeks had better-smelling breath.7
The study used an assessment that dentists use for evaluating halitosis. They then asked the oil pullers to assess their own breaths. On both counts, there was a significant reduction.7
Given this study, oil pulling may be a way to help keep your breath fresh. Of course, this assumes that oil pulling can reduce oral bacteria.
4. Reducing Inflammation and Improve Gum Health
Oil pulling may be an effective way to improve gum health and reduce inflammation. This is because certain oils have anti-inflammatory properties. For example, coconut oil.8
Oil pulling can improve gum health by decreasing the harmful bacteria and plaque in the mouth. One study showed that participants had reduced amounts of plaque after a week of oil pulling.9
Another study showed that oil pulling could potentially reduce the number of mutans streptococci (MS) in the mouth. However, it did mention that this requires further research.10
Proponents of oil pulling say that regularly performing it can:
Currently, the evidence isn’t conclusive, and the American Dental Association (ADA) still doesn’t recommend oil pulling.2
Most studies on oil pulling are small, and not all are high-quality. More research is needed to establish whether oil pulling has definite benefits.
According to Dr. Nandita Lilly, one of NewMouth’s in-house dentists, “oil pulling should not be used in place of traditional oral hygiene practices, including brushing your teeth 2x/day with a fluoridated toothpaste, using dental floss, mouthwash, and getting routine dental checkups and cleanings.”
However, some studies suggest that the following benefits are possible:3
While oil pulling won’t hurt you, there are some potential downsides. Some you may experience almost immediately.
These downsides include:
However, most of these effects will likely disappear once you’re finished. As you continue oil pulling, you may even get accustomed to it.
Although oil pulling is generally not dangerous, there can be some harmful side effects if done incorrectly.
Certain side effects can occur if you swish the oil for too long. It can be especially harmful if you accidentally swallow large amounts of the oil.
The oil contains bacteria and particles from your mouth, which can negatively affect your stomach. Here’s a short list of potentially harmful side effects:
To oil pull, you’ll need to:
The traditional recommendation is to perform this every day before brushing your teeth in the morning.1 You may want to work your way up to that by starting with shorter swishes or oil pulling just a few times a week.
A few minutes of vigorous swishing may make your mouth sore. If so, feel free to slow down and swish gently.
Oil pulling is an ancient practice that can help maintain a healthy mouth. Some studies suggest it may help fight the bacteria that cause cavities, gingivitis, and bad breath. It could also potentially reduce plaque buildup.
While it can help maintain a healthy mouth, it shouldn’t replace your regular dental practices. It should only supplement your oral hygiene.
Although some studies showcase the benefits of oil pulling, there isn’t enough evidence to establish certain benefits.
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