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What Is Coconut Oil Pulling? Benefits for Teeth & How-To Guide

If you have been struggling to keep your teeth white, your breath fresh, and your gums healthy, you may have stumbled across the suggestion that you try an oral hygiene practice known as ​"oil pulling.​"

Coconut Oil Pulling Infographic

coconut oil pulling infographic

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What Is Oil Pulling?

If you have swished mouthwash around in your mouth before, you have a pretty good idea what oil pulling is.

But as the name suggests, instead of using mouthwash, you use oil. 

There are several different types of oil which are commonly recommended (more on that shortly), but we recommend coconut oil.

Oil pulling is more time-demanding than using mouthwash, which is why it will never be as popular. 

It only takes 30-60 seconds of swishing with mouthwash to achieve an effect.  With oil pulling, you want to swish the oil around for a good 15-20 minutes.

The goal of oil pulling is the same as it is with using mouthwash: to kill the overabundance of harmful bacteria causing problems in your mouth. 

Oil pulling has been getting quite a lot of attention online recently, probably because coconut oil is one of the oils you can use. 

Since coconut oil is quite trendy right now, it makes sense that oil pulling would finally get some mainstream traction.

KEY POINTOil pulling is a powerful natural method for getting rid of excess plaque and bacteria in your mouth.  It is a bit like using mouthwash, but it takes a lot longer for each session (15-20 minutes).

Oil pulling is a powerful natural method for getting rid of excess plaque and bacteria in your mouth.  It is a bit like using mouthwash, but it takes a lot longer for each session (15-20 minutes)

​History of Oil Pulling

woman holding jar of coconut oil

While oil pulling has only recently come into the spotlight, it is hardly a new-fangled trend. 

Oil pulling actually dates back centuries as an Ayurvedic practice. 

As is the norm with Ayurvedic medicine, there is no “one-size-fits-all” recommendation on how often to pull oil or what type of oil to use.  

The best treatment is determined in part by the individual’s needs.

The actual phrase “oil pulling” is newer than the practice itself. 

It became popular in the 1990s when Lt. Col Tummala Koteswara Rao came across a paper presented by Fedor Karach to the All Ukrainian Association of the Academy of Science of the USSR.  

Apparently this paper received extensive circulation through the German Magazines Natur & Heilen and Natur und Medizin.

If this all seems rather folkloric, that’s because it is.  The story of how oil pulling rose to popularity is not entirely clear.

Regardless, what we are most interested in is the science. 

We will share the benefits of oil pulling with you momentarily as well as some research studies which back it up as an effective method.

First though, let’s talk about how to do oil pulling. 

KEY POINTOil pulling has been part of Ayurvedic medicine for centuries, but its efficacy is backed by modern scientific research.

How To Do Coconut Oil Pulling

Woman oil pulling in front of mirror
  1. Start by purchasing a healthy oil to use for pulling.  We recommend unrefined organic ​​​​coconut oil like ​this one​.
  2. Put it in your mouth and swish it around.  You will notice this takes significantly more effort than swishing mouthwash, because the oil is more viscous.  In fact, you have to ​"pull​" the oil through your teeth in a sense, which is where "oil pulling​" gets its name.
  3. Do this for 15-20 minutes.  This is the optimum timeframe to remove as much plaque and bacteria as possible without allowing for re-absorption of said toxins back into your gums.
  4. You will notice that the oil thickens during this process.  If it gets to be too voluminous in your mouth, spit out the excess in the trash can.
  5. After 15-20 minutes, the process is complete.  Spit the remaining oil out of your mouth and into the trash can.  You will notice it has a creamy white color and consistency by this point.
  6. After you spit out the oil, rinse your mouth out with warm water.
  7. Go ahead and brush and floss as normal.

Important:  Do NOT swallow the coconut oil.  Because it will have lots of bacteria and plaque in it, it will be toxic. 

​Pro Tips For Coconut Oil Pulling

  • Whatever you do, do not put coconut oil down your drain.  Why?  Coconut oil heats up to a liquid, but at room temperature it is a solid.  It will harden in your drain pipes and clog them.  Getting out coconut oil from a drain is very difficult.
  • ​Preferably do oil pulling right after you get out of bed in the morning before brushing your teeth or drinking anything.
  • ​Find something to do.  Twenty minutes of swishing is tedious, and it can be difficult to get used to because you cannot swallow during that time.  For this reason it is wise to find something to amuse yourself with.  This is a good time to watch TV or read a book or surf online.
  • ​If your jaw aches, you are swishing too hard.  Be gentler.
  • ​Remember that oil pulling does not replace brushing your teeth, flossing, or visiting your dentist.  It is a supplementary therapy, not a replacement for standard dental care.
  • ​Can’t commit to 15-20 minutes of oil pulling?  Go with 10 minutes instead.  While most sources do recommend the full 15-20 minutes, 10 minutes will give you ample benefits for oral health, and it may be easier to commit to.  Read on to learn more.

KEY POINTOil pulling takes some getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, it can become a beneficial part of your weekly dental hygiene routine.

​How Does Oil Pulling Work?

coconut oil in glass jar

So what is actually taking place inside your mouth when you are swishing oil around? 

Your mouth is full of bacteria at any given time.  An excess buildup of harmful bacteria can lead to plaque, tooth decay, abscesses, gum disease, and other oral health problems (1).

When you pull oil for 15-20 minutes, plaque and bacteria are lifted off of your teeth and gums.

The bacteria is also exposed to the antimicrobial activity of the oil you use. 

Coconut oil is effective against both bacteria (2) and fungi (3), which is one of the main reasons we recommend it. 

But sesame oil also has proven effective in research studies against harmful bacteria (8).  

Coconut oil have been found however to be more effective than sesame oil (16).

What Oils Can You Use?

The main three oils which are recommend for oil pulling are coconut oil, olive oil, and sesame oil. 

Sesame oil is the most traditional option, but again, Ayurvedic medicine does not place restrictions on using any particular healthy oil.  

So long as it can kill pathogens in your mouth, it can help.

KEY POINTFor oil pulling, try coconut oil, sesame oil, or olive oil.

Why Choose Coconut Oil for Oil Pulling?

As just mentioned, coconut oil has demonstrated antimicrobial properties (4).

It also has moisturizing properties (5).  The linked study looks at how coconut oil can moisturize skin.  

So this does not necessarily mean it could help you with dry mouth, but some of it will doubtless get on your lips while you are pulling, which may help to treat chapped lips.

Coconut oil has received a lot of specific research in the area of oral treatment.  This study (6) found that coconut oil is effective in treating gingivitis from plaque.  

Another study (7) discovered that oil pulling for just 10 minutes a day using coconut oil can be as effective as antiseptic mouthwash. 

One more reason to think about choosing coconut oil is flavor.  Unrefined coconut oil tastes like coconut, but it is a very light, pleasant flavor - at least if you like coconut. 

KEY POINTCoconut oil tastes good and has well-demonstrated antimicrobial properties. Research indicates 10 minutes a day of oil pulling with coconut oil is as effective as using antiseptic mouthwash. It is natural, safe, and healthy.

Benefits of Coconut Oil Pulling

Woman's open mouth smiling

​You know now that oil pulling with coconut oil or other healthy oils can definitely reduce the amount of harmful bacteria in your mouth, and may also help to combat fungal infections.  

But what are the specific benefits of doing so?  Here are the 7 benefits of coconut oil pulling:

1.  ​Whiten Your Teeth ​

There are a number of causes for yellow or brown teeth, but one of them is plaque.

By fighting the bacteria which causes plaque, oil pulling can have a whitening effect on your teeth (9) and prevent them from yellowing in the future.

KEY POINTReducing the amount of harmful bacteria in your mouth through oil pulling leads to cosmetic improvements including the whitening of your teeth.

​2.  ​Fasten Loose Teeth

Do you have loose teeth in your mouth as a result of weakened gums?  If so, oil pulling may be able to help.

This article (9) reports that oil pulling ​"leads to improved health.  One of the most striking results of this process is the fastening of loose teeth.​"

KEY POINTOil pulling can help to root your teeth more strongly into your gums.

​3.  ​Reduce Inflammation and Bleeding in Your Gums​

A number of studies have demonstrated that oil pulling is effective in combating gingivitis (inflammation of the gums). 

This randomized, controlled, triple-blind study (10) found a “considerable reduction in the total colony count of aerobic microorganisms” which cause plaque in adolescents with plaque-induced gingivitis. 

This can lead to the “elimination of bleeding gums” (9).

KEY POINTIf your gums are red, sore, inflamed and bloody, you can use oil pulling to reduce inflammation and get them pink and healthy again.

​4.  ​Prevent and Treat Gum Disease​

coconut oil on spoon

Gingivitis is actually a form of gum disease.  As the mildest form, it is reversible since it does not harm the support structures underlying your teeth.

Full-blown periodontitis on the other hand causes a loss of bone support and connective tissue. 

This can cause your teeth to fall out, leading to permanent damage in your mouth.

While severe gum disease is not reversible, it can be prevented and treated by controlling the biofilm of bacteria on your teeth (11).

Oil pulling helps to reduce this biofilm, keeping plaque under control. 

This in turn protects your mouth from gum disease or helps to mitigate its adverse effects if you already have it.

KEY POINT: Gum disease results in part from excessive plaque. You can use oil pulling to control the biofilm on your teeth, preventing gum disease.

If you are already a sufferer, you can treat your condition with the help of oil pulling.

5.  ​Reduce Bad Breath​

If you have bad breath, it may be the result of a buildup of bacteria in your mouth. 

If you can reduce these unwanted bacteria, you can treat your bad breath effectively.

Oil pulling can be just as effective as commercial mouthwash in removing the bacteria which causes bad breath (12). 

This makes it a powerful treatment for halitosis.

KEY POINTOil pulling can work just as well as mouthwash for reducing bad breath.

6.  Reduce Cavities

If you have an overabundance of harmful bacteria in your mouth, you can go on to develop cavities.

One way you can reduce the amount of cavities which form in your mouth is to reduce the bacteria which may lead to them.

This study (13) found that with oil pulling, ​"There was a remarkable reduction in the total count of bacteria.  The process of oil-pulling reduced the susceptibility of a host to dental caries.​"

For those not familiar with dental lingo, ​"dental caries​" is just another word for ​"cavities."

KEY POINTPrevent cavities with regular oil pulling.

​7.  ​It Can Prevent Tooth Decay and Loss

coconut

​The two main groups of bacteria that cause cavities are Lactobacillus and Streptococcus mutans (14​).

The fatty acids in coconut oil help to destroy those 2 bacteria types.

Chlorhexidine is an ingredient used in many topical antiseptics and oral therapies. It can help prevent tooth decay.

One study compared the benefits of massaging the gums with chlorhexidine, sesame oil, olive oil and coconut oil.

All of the therapies reduced plaque and improved gingivitis. Coconut oil was found to be just as effective as chlorhexidine (1​​4).

This means that people who want to choose a more natural route for their dental hygiene may want to use coconut oil instead of harsh antiseptics.

There are no harmful side effects associated with using coconut oil to prevent tooth decay (​7).

Candida albicans, a type of yeast, has also been linked to childhood tooth decay. Consuming excess sugar can contribute to the growth of this substance in the mouth.

Coconut oil acts as an anti-fungal compound, fighting Candida albicans as well as ketoconazole, a popular anti-fungal agent (1​​​5).

More studies need to be done to explore the efficacy of coconut oil in comparison to more traditional anti-fungal therapies

KEY POINTCoconut oil fights the bacteria that are responsible for tooth decay just as well as more traditional chemical agents.

​8.  Replace ​Your Toxic Mouthwash

Thankfully most mouthwash products are not as toxic as a lot of other personal hygiene and grooming products, but there are still some dubious ingredients in commercial formulations.

Woman holding a bottle of mouth wash

Commercial mouthwashes may contain parabens, which are xenoestrogens and may upset your hormonal balance while also leading to other health problems. 

Sodium fluoride is a common ingredient as well, and a known irritant to the skin, eyes, and lungs (14). 

Mouthwashes may also contain artificial colors, which serve no functional purpose and which introduce even more pointless and potentially harmful additives to your body.

Because oil pulling works just as well as mouthwash for killing the germs which cause health problems in your mouth, you can replace your commercial mouthwash with coconut oil or another healthy oil.

This reduces your exposure to harmful chemicals, which is one more way that oil pulling can protect your health.

KEY POINTWith oil pulling, you can get away from commercial mouthwash. That means replacing unwanted chemicals with a totally natural, safe, healthy alternative.

​What About Other Health Claims About Oil Pulling?

Like many popular natural remedies, oil pulling is presented as something of a cure-all for a wide range of maladies. 

You now know that oil pulling does work wonders for your teeth and gums, but what about some of the other claims you hear, like that oil pulling can treat asthma or arthritis?

As of right now, there is no scientific backing for these unusual claims. 

Oil pulling certainly isn’t snake oil, because it does have powerful health benefits for your mouth, but claims like these are unfounded.

So use oil pulling to treat gingivitis, plaque, bad breath, and other mouth-related problems.  But stick with proven remedies for your other health conditions.

KEY POINTWhile oil pulling is a very effective oral treatment, there is no basis for the wide range of other health claims made by some of its more fanatical proponents.

​Conclusion: Oil Pulling Is a Powerful Natural Treatment to Protect Your Oral Health

A lot of traditional remedies are lacking in scientific proof, but oil pulling is not among them.

As you can see, oil pulling has received extensive research, and is well-backed as a protective treatment for oral health.

Oil pulling on a regular basis can prevent gingivitis, tooth decay and bad breath.  It can strengthen your gums and whiten your teeth.

Do it for 15-20 minutes per session if you can.  But if you cannot commit to that, you can see great benefits with just 10 minutes. 

While coconut oil is the oil we recommend, you can also use olive oil or sesame oil.  Try each one and see which you like best! 

​In summary, oil pulling is a potent natural remedy backed by centuries of traditional use and a growing body of modern scientific research. 

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4 Comments on "What Is Coconut Oil Pulling? Benefits for Teeth & How-To Guide"

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Follow My Gut
Guest

I haven’t tried this but I use coconut oil all the time and need to start doing this!

Danielle | FollowMyGut.com <3

Amy Hagerup
Guest

I have tried oil pulling before but didn’t keep up with it. I want to start to do it again. Thanks for the thorough info.

Kim Smyth
Guest

Hi I’m Kim from Kimmy‘s Patio. I do the practice of oil pulling every single day but I go one step further, I add essential oil’s like oregano or peppermint. This bumps up the effectiveness since essential oil‘s cross the blood brain barrier. Peppermint essential oil added to the coconut oil also really freshens the breath and killed so many germs I almost feel like I don’t need to brush my teeth but of course I do!! Love your article and that info graphic!

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