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Updated on February 2, 2023
6 min read

Oil Pulling

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What is Oil Pulling?

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.

jar and bowl of coconut oil

How to Oil Pull 

To oil pull, you’ll need to:

  1. Choose a safe, edible oil. Coconut oil is the most popular, but olive or sesame oil also work.
  2. Get about one tablespoon of oil to place in your mouth.
  3. Swish it around. Push and pull the oil around your mouth and between your teeth for 5 to 10 or even up to 20 minutes. Be careful not to swallow any oil.
  4. Spit the oil out, preferably into a trash can. Don’t spit it into a sink, as the oil could clog your drain.
  5. Rinse your mouth with water. Be thorough. Some oil taste may remain, but it shouldn’t last very long.

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.

What Does Science Say About Oil Pulling?

Proponents of oil pulling say that regularly performing it can: 

  • Reduce inflammation 
  • Fight oral bacteria 
  • Whiten teeth 
  • Improve gingival (gum) health
  • Reduce the risk of gingivitis

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

3 Potential Benefits of Oil Pulling 

The most significant benefits of oil pulling may include: 

1. Fighting Tooth Decay

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

2. Reducing Plaque

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.

3. Reducing Halitosis (Bad Breath)

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

What are the Downsides of Oil Pulling?  

While oil pulling won’t hurt you, there are some potential downsides. Some you may experience almost immediately. 

These downsides include:

  • Mouth or jaw soreness
  • Nausea
  • Headaches

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. 

Potential Side Effects of Oil Pulling

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:

  • Lipoid pneumonia
  • Upset stomach
  • Heavy metal poisoning

Summary

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.

Last updated on February 2, 2023
12 Sources Cited
Last updated on February 2, 2023
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Shanbhag, Vagish Kumar L. “Oil pulling for maintaining oral hygiene - A review.” Journal of traditional and complementary medicine, 2016.
  2. “Oil Pulling”. American Dental Association.
  3. Woolley, Julian, et al. “The effect of oil pulling with coconut oil to improve dental hygiene and oral health: A systematic review.” Heliyon, 2020.
  4. Kaushik, Mamta, et al. “The Effect of Coconut Oil pulling on Streptococcus mutans Count in Saliva in Comparison with Chlorhexidine Mouthwash.” The journal of contemporary dental practice, 2016. 
  5. Matsue, Miki, et al. “Measuring the Antimicrobial Activity of Lauric Acid against Various Bacteria in Human Gut Microbiota Using a New Method.” Cell transplantation, 2019. 
  6. Sezgin, Yasemin, et al. “Efficacy of oil pulling therapy with coconut oil on four-day supragingival plaque growth: A randomized crossover clinical trial.” Complementary therapies in medicine, 2019. 
  7. 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, 2011. 
  8. Intahphuak, S, et al. “Anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and antipyretic activities of virgin coconut oil.” Pharmaceutical biology, 2010.
  9. 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, 2015.
  10. Siripaiboonpong, Nisachon, et al. “Microbiological Effects of Virgin Coconut Oil Pulling in Comparison with Palm Oil Pulling as an Adjunctive Oral Hygiene Care for Patients with Gingival Inflammation: A Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial.” Journal of Indian Society of Periodontology, 2022.
  11. Kuroyama, Muneyoshi, et al. “Exogenous lipoid pneumonia caused by repeated sesame oil pulling: a report of two cases.” BMC pulmonary medicine, 2015.
  12. Singh, Abhinav, and Bharathi Purohit. “Tooth brushing, oil pulling and tissue regeneration: A review of holistic approaches to oral health.” Journal of Ayurveda and integrative medicine, 2011.
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