Oil pulling is an age-old remedy rooted in Ayurvedic medicine that uses natural substances to clean and detoxify teeth and gums. It has the added effect of whitening teeth naturally and evidence even shows that it may be beneficial for gum health and that certain oils may help fight harmful bacteria in the mouth!
What is Oil Pulling?
Short answer: Oil pulling is the act of swishing oil (usually Sesame, Sunflower or Coconut) in the mouth for up to 20 minutes to improve oral health.
The basic idea is that oil is swished in the mouth for a short time each day and that this action helps improve oral health. Just as with Oil Cleansing for the skin, the principle of “like dissolves like” applies, as oil is able to cut through plaque and remove toxins without disturbing the teeth or gums.
The practice of oil pulling (also called gundusha) started in India thousands of years ago, and from my research, was first introduced to the United States in the early 1990s by a medical doctor named Dr. F. Karach, who used it with success in his medical practice.
Benefits of Oil Pulling
Oil pulling seems to be a practice with a plenty of anecdotal support but a lack of extensive scientific studies (though times they are a changing and there are more every day… see below). Most sources do agree that oil pulling is safe, but debate you will always find a debate on the effectiveness of the protocol. Personally I’ve noticed the benefits and dozens of bloggers swear by its effectiveness as well. Fundamentally it make sense but like any natural solution to commercial practices, if you don’t do it it won’t work for you.
In my research I found hundreds of testimonials online from people who experienced benefits from oil pulling, including help with skin conditions, arthritis, asthma, headaches, hormone imbalances, infections, liver problems and more. When you understand the importance of detoxifying and balancing the body, it is not hard to understand why thy are making these claims. And where Oil Pulling may not have been the sole reason for the relief of systemic symptoms of their ailments, I am confident it saying that it certainly didn’t hurt.
I’ve heard several experts explain how bacteria and infection can enter the blood through the mouth, it does make sense that addressing these infections could have an impact in other parts of the body. At the very least, I think that oil pulling can be very beneficial and has no downside as long as a quality oil (that is high enough quality to eat) is used and it is done correctly.
Oil pulling is a very inexpensive therapy that could potentially have great benefit on oral health, so I see no downside to trying it and I have used it myself for several years.
How to Oil Pull
The concept is incredibly simple. Basically, a person swishes a couple teaspoons of a food grade nut or vegetable oil (coconut, sesame or olive) in the mouth for 20 minutes and then spits it out and rinses well. Oil pulling is best done in the morning, before eating or drinking anything, although in Dr. Bruce Fife book Oil Pulling Therapy: Detoxifying and Healing the Body Through Oral Cleansing he suggests that it can be done before each meal if needed for more severe infections or dental problems.
Oil Pulling Instructions
- Put 1-2 teaspoons of oil into the mouth. The oil traditionally used in oil pulling is organic sesame oil, and this is also the oil that has been the most studied for use in oil pulling. It is also possible to do oil pulling with organic coconut oil or pre-made coconut oil chews. Whichever oil you choose, place 1-2 teaspoons in the mouth. I also pour a few drops of OnGuard: Protective Blend or Myrrh Oil into the mix. You can re-purpose a stopper bottle or get something like these resealable glass flasks with essential oils already added to the oil of your choice or a covered mason jar to hold the coconut oil chews (drops or unprocessed coconut oil which are first melted to add the essential oils and then added to Mini Ice Cube Trays with Flexible Silicone Bottom For Easy Release Pop out | here is a Set Of 3 Ice Molds BPA Free and cooled in a freezer until re-solidified. I will link a DIY article for that soon)
- Swish for 20 minutes. Apparently the timing is key, according to Dr. Bruce Fife, as this is long enough to break through plaque and bacteria but not long enough that the body starts re-absorbing the toxins and bacteria. The oil will get thicker and milky as it mixed with saliva during this time and it should be creamy-white when spit out. It will also double in volume during this time due to saliva. At first, it can be difficult to make it the full 20 minutes, but you can work up to it and 5 minutes is better than nothing.
- Spit oil out, not down the drain. Don’t spit into the sink! Esspecially if you are using unprocessed Coconut oil which may thicken and clog pipes. Do not swallow the oil as it is hopefully full of bacteria, toxins and puss! Nasty! Have a container or you can use an empty Supplement bottle to spit into until it’s full or a paper towel and then throw it in the garbage.
- Rinse well. Warm water works better than cold and you can also use a Organic mouth rinse or Apple Cidar Vinegar which you can keep by the sink for mouth rinsing. I swish a few times with warm water to get any remaining oil out of my mouth and then some Homemade Mouth Rinse. Some sources recommend swishing with warm salt water.
- Brush well. I prefer to brush with On Guard Protective Blend Toothpaste to make sure any remaining bacteria is killed, or you can make your own healthy toothpaste.
This can also be done with coconut oil, which is naturally antibacterial and has a milder taste that other oils. Anyone with a sensitivity to coconut oil or coconut products should avoid using coconut oil in this way. Sesame oil was traditionally used in the Ayurvedic tradition and is another great option, just make sure to use an organic sesame oil.
Is Oil Pulling Safe?
Thankfully, this is one point that all sources seem to agree on! Some sources claim that oil pulling doesn’t have the benefits often attributed to it or that it doesn’t actually detoxify the mouth, but all of them agree that it shouldn’t hurt anything.
All of the oils that are often used are completely edible and considered to be healthy when eaten, so they aren’t problematic when swished in the mouth. The only potential danger I’ve seen is if the oil is swallowed after it has absorbed any bacteria or toxins from the mouth.
When I asked my own dentist about oil pulling, I was told that while the research is lacking, it could be considered an effective and safe alternative to mouthwash and that there shouldn’t be any harm to trying it.
What Oil Should Be Used for Pulling?
If the goal is whitening the teeth, I’ve found coconut oil to be most effective (especially when combined with this unusual remedy). Coconut oil is also slightly more effective at removing certain bacteria from the mouth, including the Streptococcus mutans bacteria that is known for causing dental caries (source).
Sesame oil is recommended by most sources (though this is partially because it was one of the more widely available oils when the practice first started years ago) and it is also the most well studied and considered safe for those who are not allergic to sesame seeds. Olive oil is sometimes used, though some sources claim that it is too harsh for the teeth. The main thing is to avoid using any high Omega-6 or chemically created oils like vegetable oil, canola oil, soybean oil, corn oil, etc.
- Peppermint: Peppermint is good for giving you an energy boost both mental and physical, give you lovely fresh breath, and helps maintain a healthy digestive system.
- OnGuard: Protective Blend also has clove in the blend which helps with sensitive teeth and may support your healthy immune system.
- Orange: Orange is very uplifting and tastes amazing.
- Grapefruit: Grapefruit is fresh, invigorating and tasty and is often used when managing weight loss.
- Lemon: Lemon is good for so many things including cleansing, detoxing, uplifting, supporting a healthy immune system and easing everyday stresses.
- Oregano: Oregano is traditionally used to help cleanse the mouth so it’s a good oil to be used with oil pulling.
- Rosemary: Rosemary supports a healthy lifestyle regimen and smells and tastes wonderful.
You get Peppermint, OnGuard, Oregano, and Lemon as part of the many of the starter bundles and can get all others a wholesale pricing when you join doTERRA
Who Can Do Oil Pulling?
Children: Several practitioners I’ve asked about this said that oil pulling is safe for kids once they are old enough not to swallow the oil.
Pregnancy: According to what I have found out it is generally considered safe for pregnant women, especially after the first trimester. Oral health is especially important during pregnancy. Just consider it like brushing or using mouthwash. As with anything, check with a Doctor, Doula or Midwife before doing oil pulling, especially if pregnant.
Nursing: Generally considered safe but check with a dentist or doctor to be safe.
Dental Issues: Generally considered safe but check with a dentist or doctor to be safe but check with a doctor or dentist to be sure, especially if you have any metal fillings, crowns, or dental problems.
Note: Some people supposedly notice a detox reaction for the first few days of using oil pulling that usually includes mild congestion, headache, mucous drainage or other effects. I personally didn’t notice any of these effects, but have read cases of others who did.
Does Oil Pulling Work?
My only personal experience is yes, with the oral health benefits and I continue doing it for this reason. I had chronic bleeding in my gums due to gingivitis and my gums continue to get healthy. The most comprehensive resource I’ve read on the topic is the book “Oil Pulling Therapy” by Dr. Bruce Fife. There are additional books available like Teeth Healing Through Oil Pulling: by Tammi Diamond
Though the research is limited, there are some scientific studies that support the benefits of oil pulling, including those showing its benefit on different types or oral bacteria, on dental caries, on plaque/gingivitis and on oral micro-organisms:
Studies About Oil Pulling
S Asokan, J Rathan, MS Muthu, PV Rathna, P Emmadi, Raghuraman, Chamundeswari. Effect of oil pulling on Streptococcus mutans count in plaque and saliva using Dentocult SM Strip mutans test: a randomized, controlled, triple-blind study. Journal of the Indian Society of Pedodontics & Preventive Dentistry. 26(1):12-7, 2008 Mar
TD Anand, C Pothiraj, RM Gopinath, et al. Effect of oil-pulling on dental caries causing bacteria (PDF). African Journal of Microbiology Research, Vol 2:3 pp 63-66, MAR 2008. (PDF Link)
HV Amith, Anil V Ankola, L Nagesh. Effect of Oil Pulling on Plaque and Gingivitis. Journal of Oral Health & Community Dentistry: 2007; 1(1):Pages 12-18
S Thaweboon, J Nakaparksin, B Thaweboon. Effect of Oil-Pulling on Oral Microorganisms in Biofilm Models. Asia Journal of Public Health: 2011 May-Aug. (PDF)
There are several questions that are repeatedly asked in the comments, so I’ve compiled them here, along with the most common answers and any research I could find:
Does Oil Pulling Help Bad Breath?
This is one benefit of oil pulling that all sources seem to agree on. Likely because of its ability to help wipe out harmful bacteria in the mouth, oil pulling is known for its ability to help improve breathe and reduce plaque in the mouth.
Do I Have to Swish for 20 Minutes?
It can be difficult to swish for the full 20 minutes when first starting oil pulling. Though this is recommended, it isn’t a hard and fast rule. Neither is the recommendation to use a tablespoon of oil. If you only use a teaspoon and swish for 5 minutes, start with that and don’t stress about it. Some people also find that adding a drop of essential oil helps the taste and makes oil pulling easier. Just make sure that any oil you use is safe to use internally. I personally like to use Myrrh for gum support and Spearmint for the flavor. I also find that a good time to oil pull is in the shower, since this is a time of fewer distractions. Just remember to keep container for spitting out the oil near by so you don’t spit down the drains.
Can I Swallow the Oil? Or Where Should I Spit?
Please do not swallow the oil after oil pulling. It may contain bacteria, dead skin or other residue from the mouth and the whole purpose of oil pulling is to remove these things from the body. Especially with coconut oil, it is also important not to spit this in the sink, shower or toilet as it may solidify and clog the drain. You can use an old supplement container and spit the oil in that each morning and throw away when it is full.
Can People With Fillings Try Oil Pulling?
Check with a dentist to see if this would be appropriate for your particular dental situation.