I'm a dental hygienist, pyrography artist, avid gardener, writer, vegetarian, world traveler, and many other things!
Everyone on the internet seems to be asking if oil pulling really works. It's a topic that seems to lay low for a while and then spring up again with renewed intensity and fervor.
I've seen explanations and opinions on range from somewhat correct to completely misinformed. As a dental health professional, I thought I should step in and help elucidate this method.
Unfortunately, it seems that most articles are based on conjecture and opinion rather than science and evidence. Everyone wants to add their two cents to the debate, and in the end, what happens is that nobody knows if it really works or not.
There is peer-reviewed evidence to back up the fact that oil pulling is as effective at decreasing the bacterial load in the mouth as some of the more common conventional methods. For example, it has proven as effective as chlorhexidine gluconate, a commonly-prescribed mouth rinse, at decreasing oral bacteria.
To understand how oil pulling works, first we'll need some background on what oil pulling actually is in the first place.
What is Oil Pulling, Anyway?
Oil pulling is an ancient Ayurvedic technique of swishing oil around in the mouth to remove bacteria from the oral cavity. It's been practiced for thousands of years in India and elsewhere, but only recently has it begun to be scientifically studied and explained.
The basic goal of all oral hygiene is to decrease the bacterial load in the mouth; in other words, to remove bacteria from the mouth. Bacteria in the oral cavity cause all sorts of dental issues like gum disease (gingivitis & periodontitis), necrotizing oral diseases, cavities, tooth loss, and bone loss.
Oral bacteria play a part in the development of oral cancer as well, in addition to causing systemic inflammation which contributes to the development of diabetes, heart disease, and other inflammatory diseases.
Goal: We want to decrease the bacteria in our mouths. This is why we brush and floss every day, and why your dental hygienist recommends using mouthwash. Oil pulling is used for exactly the same purpose.
Oil pulling decreases the bacterial load in the mouth so that our teeth and tissues can begin to heal and flourish.
How Exactly Does it Work?
Almost everything that happens in the body is based on ionic interactions. You can basically think of ions as particles that carry a charge (+ / -) sort of like the terminals on a battery. The interactions of these charged particles are responsible for all sorts of amazing things in the body, like the sodium-potassium pump, or the conduction of sensory input through nerve fibers.
Just like the rest of the body, the mouth and teeth are influenced by ionic interactions. A lot of the science behind dentistry lies in the manipulation of ions to improve oral health. For example, fluoride ions adhere to the tooth based on ionic interactions. This is also the means by which oil absorbs bacteria in the mouth.
Remember: opposite charges attract each other, while like charges repel each other.
- Oil is negatively charged
- Bacteria are negatively charged
- Salivary proteins are positively charged
- Teeth have a net negative charge
The basic mechanics of how this works should be explained here. As soon as you brush or floss the teeth, they instantly begin attracting salivary proteins again (a key ingredient of oral plaque.) As soon as the proteins adhere to the teeth, oral bacteria adhere to the proteins ionically.
The bacteria and proteins combine to form a matrix where they are no longer separated but form a complete substance known as plaque. The introduction of negatively charged oil dislodges the salivary protein layer on the teeth, which is encapsulating the oral bacteria. Through vigorous swishing of this oil, the oil-plaque mixture eventually emulsifies. At this point, the mixture is spat out, along with all of the oral bacteria that it has collected.
Oil pulling leaves the mouth feeling thoroughly cleaned, helps the tissues heal, freshens the breath, helps decrease the likelihood of getting cavities, and also whitens the teeth.
Is it Effective?
As with any oral hygiene measures, removing the source of inflammation and decay is the end goal.
Oil pulling is especially effective at doing this because of the properties described above, in addition to the fact that it is fluid and flows between the teeth and through the entire mouth.
I have personally seen patients before and after they started oil pulling, and it makes a huge difference in the health of their oral cavity.
I oil pull as well, so can speak from experience that this method really works, even if you have great oral hygiene to begin with.
That said, there are pros and cons to oil pulling.
The pros are that it effectively reduces the bacterial load in the mouth, whitens teeth, and cures halitosis (bad breath).
The cons are that it takes about 20 minutes per session, it's kind of tiring, and realistically there are easier methods out there that do the same thing better and more easily (swishing with activated coconut charcoal, for example).
Oil pulling is very effective, but is not for everyone. Try it for a week and see if it's right for you.
How Do You Oil Pull?
- Put a teaspoon of organic coconut oil or sesame oil into your mouth
- Swish continuously for about 20 minutes
- Never swallow the oil-plaque mixture
- If your mouth becomes too full, spit out half of what's in your mouth and keep swishing
- After 20 minutes, spit the emulsified mixture into the trash. If you want to spit it down the drain, mix it with dish liquid first so it doesn't clog your drain
- Rinse with warm water a few times to remove any remaining bacteria or oil from the mouth
- Brush your teeth as you usually would
- For the best results, oil pull daily
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2015 Kate P
Suzie from Carson City on April 05, 2017:
Excellent! Thank you so much. I have read some and heard some about "oil pulling" in the past. However, I greatly appreciate you sharing the science with us. It is always most useful to know the answers to How and Why!
One thing that made me curious is the fact that throughout my life and history with Dentists, oral hygiene and care, never once did a dentist nor hygienist recommend oil pulling. I wonder if you have an opinion as to why this is? Paula
Jo Miller from Tennessee on November 08, 2016:
Very thorough article. I did check out your sources. Well done.
I tried oil pulling for a while. While I was doing it, my hygienist commented on how good my dental hygiene was even though I didn't mentioned to her what I was doing. Guess I'll have to get back to oil pulling again.
Valene from Missouri on September 23, 2016:
Oh wow, I've got to do it for the sinus issues, then! I've tried oil pulling once or twice, but not with any regularity. Faceless39, is your profile pic a New England Aster, by any chance?
Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on September 05, 2015:
Hi Ariana, thanks for reading! Oil pulling pulls bacteria from the oral cavity, which includes the tonsils, nasopharynx, and even the oropharynx depending on how you swish. I can see how your sinus issues could be alleviated by decreasing the bacterial load in these areas. Thanks for your comment!
ArianaLove on September 04, 2015:
Newbizmau - it can be used for that as well! I do oil pulling when I have a sinus infection. Since I started to do that, my sinuses clear up much faster.
Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on September 03, 2015:
Thanks for your interesting comment, Sallie. Oral bacteria truly make a huge impact on a person's health, and I think your oil pulling experience has really proven that for you. I have yet to find someone tell me they haven't benefited from the practice. Great stuff, thanks!
Sallie Mullinger from Ohio on September 03, 2015:
Ive been pulling for over a year now. I have whiter teeth, less bad breath and believe this or not, a cavity that I knew I had a year ago, seem to actually be gone. I have also noticed a decrease in stomach/digestive issues which I believe is due to the fact that less bacteria are finding their way into my gut. Im by no means a scientist or a medical doctor. I only know my own body and Im a strong proponent of oil pulling. The jar shown in the above photograph is the type of coconut oil I use.
Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on September 03, 2015:
Oral health is completely connected to the health of the entire body. By removing inflammation-causing bacteria and their toxic byproducts from the mouth, it helps resolve inflammation in the whole body. I hope that makes sense. Thanks for reading and for the comment, Newbizmau!
Maurice Glaude from Mobile, AL on September 03, 2015:
I've heard of Oil pulling but I misunderstood what it was for. I thought it was for purifying toxins from the body through the mouth. I didn't know it was for oral health.