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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 coconut oil, has become more popular in recent years as a supplement to regular oral hygiene.

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 will 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.
  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 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.

More research is needed, but there are studies to suggest that some of these benefits are possible.3

3 Potential Benefits of Oil Pulling 

The most significant benefits of oil pulling may include: 

1. Fighting Tooth Decay

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

2. Reducing Plaque

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.

3. Reducing Halitosis (Bad Breath)

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.

Other Benefits

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.

Anything that helps fight harmful oral bacteria is likely to reduce tooth decay, plaque buildup, gingivitis, and bad breath. Oil pulling may do that, but there isn’t enough research available.

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.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

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, 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.

Summary

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.

Last updated on April 20, 2022
7 Sources Cited
Last updated on April 20, 2022
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 vol. 7,1 106-109. 6 Jun. 2016, doi:10.1016/j.jtcme.2016.05.004
  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 vol. 6,8 e04789. 27 Aug. 2020, doi:10.1016/j.heliyon.2020.e04789
  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 vol. 17,1 38-41. 1 Jan. 2016, doi:10.5005/jp-journals-10024-1800
  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 vol. 28,12 : 1528-1541. doi:10.1177/0963689719881366
  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 vol. 47 : 102193. doi:10.1016/j.ctim.2019.102193
  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 vol. 29,2 : 90-4. doi:10.4103/0970-4388.84678
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