Safest Teeth Whiteners
The safest ways to whiten your teeth explained
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 coconut oil, has become more popular in recent years as a supplement to regular oral hygiene.
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.
Proponents of oil pulling say that performing it regularly will reduce inflammation, fight oral bacteria, and whiten teeth, among other benefits. This evidence isn’t conclusive, and the American Dental Association (ADA) still doesn’t recommend oil pulling.2
More research is needed, but there are studies to suggest that some of these benefits are possible.3
The most significant benefits of oil pulling may include:
There is some evidence to suggest that oil pulling may help fight oral bacteria.
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. It found that both groups saw a reduction in bacteria that contribute to tooth decay.4
Coconut oil in particular may be helpful in fighting 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. Coconut oil also caused less staining than the mouthwash.6 A study from 2011, using sesame oil, had similar findings.7
This suggests that coconut oil may be an effective and less harsh alternative to pharmaceutical products like chlorhexidine.
Oil pulling may help prevent or reduce bad breath. According to the same 2011 study on oil pulling with sesame oil, people who had been oil pulling every day for two weeks had better-smelling breath than before they started.
The study used an assessment dentists use for evaluating halitosis and asked the oil pullers to assess their own breaths. On both counts, there was a significant reduction.7
Given this study, and assuming that oil pulling really reduces oral bacteria, it may be a way to help keep your breath smelling fresh.
There may be even more benefits to oil pulling. Several studies suggest that it may help improve gingival (gum) health.3 But there isn’t any evidence that it whitens teeth or improves general health.
Most of the studies that have been done on oil pulling are small, and not all of them are of high quality. Overall, more research is needed to establish whether there are definite benefits to oil pulling.
While oil pulling won’t hurt you, there are some potential downsides. Some you may experience almost immediately, such as mouth or jaw soreness or an unpleasant taste, especially after swishing for several minutes. These are likely to go away shortly after you’ve finished.
It’s important, however, that you spit the oil out. Swallowing the oil after pulling, especially since it now contains bacteria and particles from your mouth, may cause gastrointestinal problems.
Oil pulling also shouldn’t replace your regular oral hygiene practices, like brushing and flossing. Any benefits it may provide won’t make up for overall poor oral hygiene.
Oil pulling is an ancient practice with many modern proponents. As a supplement to regular teeth cleaning, it may be helpful in maintaining a healthy mouth.
To oil pull, you’ll need to use a safe, edible oil such as coconut, olive, or sesame. Coconut oil is the most commonly used. You should swish it around for at least a few minutes, spit it out, and rinse with water afterwards.
Although some research has been done on oil pulling, there isn’t enough evidence to establish any certain benefits.
However, there are studies that suggest it may help fight the bacteria that cause cavities, gingivitis, and bad breath, and help to reduce plaque buildup. Coconut oil also contains lauric acid, which has antimicrobial effects.
Overall, the evidence is limited, and more research is needed.
Oil pulling may provide some benefit to your dental hygiene and oral health, and it won’t do you any harm. But it should be used to supplement your regular dental hygiene practices, not to replace them.