Oil Pulling: What is it, Its Benefits and Side Effects

oil pulling

what is oil pullingOil pulling. What is it, what are its benefits and does it have side effects.

You’ve probably never heard of the term before. But, it is something you may want to try.

Our mouths are a breeding ground for bacteria. Many of these bacteria thrive on the sugar from the food we eat.

Without proper oral care, these bacteria will coat the surface of our teeth and form plaque, which begins harming our teeth and gums.

In recent years, you’ve probably heard more and more about oil pulling and its benefits. It’s been said that this practice helps improve oral care, whitens teeth, and getting rid of plaque, gum infection and bacteria.

In this article we take a closer look at oil pulling, what it is, its benefits and side effects as well as if you should try it or not.


Table of Contents


What is Oil Pulling?

Oil pulling is an Ayurvedic practice, a holistic healing system that has its origin back in India dating back 3,000 or so years ago. It is a method of cleansing our oral cavity through the use of edible oil.

Doing so not only gets rid of the plaque, which is a thin film of bacteria that forms around our teeth, but also has the ability to fight gingivitis, bad breath and prevent gum disease.

benefits of oil pullingOil pulling works by typically using oils like extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil or sesame oil.

Sesame oil and sunflower oil were used by the original oil pulling practitioners. This helped them fight tooth decay, bleeding gums, bad breath and strengthened their gums and teeth.

Today, coconut oil is among the more popular options because of its health benefits.

Summary of Oil Pulling

  • Oil pulling is done by taking a teaspoon (some people use 2 teaspoons) of oil.
  • Then, swish the oil in your mouth for up to 20 minutes.
  • The time varies depending on who you talk to, although 20 minutes looks like the ultimate goal.

Many individuals recommend anywhere between 10 to 20 minutes, with a minimum of 5 minutes.

After which, you spit the oil out.

Swishing the oil, or “pulling”, works by drawing out the toxins from your teeth, gums and everywhere else inside your mouth. The reason oil is used is that majority of the microorganisms that inhabit your oral cavity have a fatty membrane around them. The fat in oil makes these membranes stick to them.

This essentially “pulls out” the bacteria, and other toxins when you spit the oil out, helping prevent oral disease and cavity formation.


How to Do Oil Pulling?

Here’s how it’s done…

  1. Take 1 to 2 teaspoons of oil, I used coconut oil when trying it out (see why below), and gently swish it in your mouth like you would mouthwash.
  2. Do this for at least 5 minutes up to 20 minutes.
  3. After 5 to 20 minutes of pulling, spit out the oil into the trash, not the sink (oil hardens and can accumulate to clog your sink or toilet).
  4. Rinse your mouth with water.
  5. Brush your teeth as you normally would.

That’s it, straightforward and easy.

If you don’t like reading each line of the instructions in detail, here’s a video demonstration.


Oil Pulling Tips for Beginners

Here are some notes I learned with oil pulling.

  • Start with a teaspoon. You can use a little less if you want. That works too. The reason is that starting off with too much makes it difficult to swish. It also takes getting used to so putting too much may make you just spit it out either because of your gag reflex or its taste. Having little oil in your mouth makes it easier to go for longer periods.
  • spoon of oilAim for 5 minutes to start. While 20 minutes is the goal, start small with 5 minutes. This will offer enough benefits and make it easy as well. Trust me, 5 minutes will feel like a lifetime when you’re starting out. The longer you pull, the more toxins you’re able to extract. It also takes more of your time though and can make your jaw muscles ache after a while, which leads to the next point.
  • Swish gently. I know some people swish very violently thinking that the more pressure that’s used in swishing the liquid, the more plaque and dirt that comes off. This may be true but doing so also makes it more difficult not to swallow any of the oil. And if you work too hard, your cheeks and jaw will hate you for it after a few minutes.

Essential Tips

These tips below are important tips. These are things you shouldn’t forget do if you decide to do oil pulling.

  • Spit it out. Make sure to spit out the oil after you’re done swishing. Don’t ingest it. The oil may not be harmful, but ingesting the pulled oil basically makes you swallow whatever toxins you were trying to get rid of in the first place.
  • Spit the oil into the trash. Whatever you do, don’t spit it out in the sink. Just like cooking oil, these edible oils will clog your pipes if you spit them there. Save yourself the trouble and spit the pulled oil into the trash bin.
  • Make sure to brush your teeth after. While oil pulling really works, it isn’t meant as a replacement or alternative to brushing your teeth. Plus, rinsing and brushing after helps get rid of the oily feeling and texture in your mouth.


Proven Benefits of Oil Pulling

If you look through the different Ayurvedic publications and articles related to oil pulling you’ll notice that the practice offers a multitude of benefits ranging from better health to fighting off certain diseases.

However, of all those only the benefits related to oral hygiene have been proven by science. This is not to say that all the others don’t work, but the ones you can rely on doing your body good are these 3 oral health benefits.

1. Oil Pulling Rids Your Mouth of Harmful Bacteria

healthy teethThe human mouth contains many different bacteria, some good and many bad. The presence of bad bacteria in the oral cavity has not only been shown to contribute to plaque and cavities, it also affects the rest of our health.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, studies have shown that bacteria which is responsible for oral disease can get into our bloodstream to affect the rest of our body.

When this happens it increases inflammation in our blood vessels that ups our risk of cardiovascular disease as well as stroke.

One of the known bacteria that contributes to tooth decay is Streptococcus mutans. And oil pulling has been shown to effectively reduce the amount of Streptococcus mutans in our mouths.

A study found that 20 boys who did oil pulling daily saw a reduction in the levels of Streptococcus mutans in their saliva and plaque within a 2 week period. In the study, oil pulling was done before brushing their teeth in the morning which the researchers believe is an effective way of improving oral health.

2. It Can Get Rid of Bad Breath

mouthwashAnother benefit of oil pulling is its ability to fight bad breath.

Bad breath is a result of a combination of different things. In the short term, it can be from something we ate or dry mouth.

But having bad breath on a regular basis may be caused by something more.

These problems can include poor dental hygiene or oral disease and infections. In this case, the excess bacteria and the gases they produce cause the odor.

Researchers in India found that oil puling is just as effective as chlorhexidine mouthwash in reducing bad breath.

3. Heals Gingivitis (Bleeding Gums) and Reduces Plaque

dentistGingivitis is a form of gum disease. When you have gingivitis, you’ll notice that your gums get inflamed.

This is one of the earliest stages of periodontal disease and happens when plaque from bacteria causes an infection along your gum line.

This results in red or swollen gums. You gums can also bleed when brush. When left untreated, gingivitis will cause the gums to pull away from the teeth, give you sensitive teeth and make chewing painful as well.

A study by the Meenakshi Ammal Dental College in India found that oil pulling and chlorhexidine mouthwash were both effective in reducing plaque and gingivitis in as short as 10 days.

While more traditional oil pullers used sesame oil and sunflower oil as effective oral cleansing agents, researchers also discovered that coconut oil proved to be effective with fighting plaque and reducing gingivitis.

In 60 teenage boys, including oil pulling in their oral hygiene routine reduced plaque induced gingivitis. Results were notices are early as 7 days from the time oil pulling was added to their routines.

Other Potential Benefits (Unproven at the Moment)

The benefits listed above have been proven by research science, however if you were to ask followers of Ayurveda medicine and oil pulling enthusiasts, you’ll come up with a much larger list of health benefits.

Some of those that have been mentioned include:

  • brushing teetchTeeth whitening
  • Improves energy levels
  • Helps with treating asthma
  • Effective for headaches
  • Sore throat remedy
  • Heals cracked lips
  • Reduced acne
  • Boosts your immune system
  • Relieves dry throat
  • Helps with diabetes
  • Prevents cardiovascular disease
  • Keeps skin clear and healthy
  • Helps detoxify the body

Depending on where you look and who you ask, you’ll probably find more.

However, there’s been little proven research when it comes to oil pulling. And the research that’s available have only been able to show it for oral hygiene benefits.


Oil Pulling Side Effects

Is oil pulling safe?

The answer here will depend on who you ask.

Most people who try oil pulling will see its benefits in around 10 days or so. Teeth do get noticeably whiter a bit, while you can also feel less of the filmy substance (plaque) when you slide your tongue against your teeth.

Side Effects of Oil Pulling List

That said, there are some possible side effects. These include:

  • It doesn’t taste good. Make no mistake, you’re probably not going to like the taste. It gets better as you get used to it though in a few days.
  • Gagging. One of the biggest possibilities is your gag reflex. This depends on how sensitive you are.
  • Soreness. Because it takes at least 5 minutes, and up to 20 minutes, your ability to swish for long periods of time could lead to sore cheeks and jaws. This gets better with practice and if you swish more gently.
  • Mucus. Another possibility is mucus drainage while you’re oil pulling. When this happens you can easily spit out the oil and clear your nose and start over.
  • Swallowing the gunk. Swallowing the oil after you swish will definitely be something that you want to avoid. Not only does it lead to ingestion of all the fat content of the oil, but also all the toxins pulled from your oral cavity.
  • Stomach distress. This also cause some stomach issues like diarrhea or upset stomach.
  • You skip brushing. The most problematic issue comes from the thinking that oil pulling can replace regular brushing. This is a NO-NO. According to dental professionals, oil pulling helps complement regular brushing and visiting the dentist for annual cleaning. But, it doesn’t get rid of enough plaque or bacteria to be used on its own.

Those listed above are more of warnings and don’t really pose any danger to health. These side effects are quite benign.

More Serious Side Effects

One that causes a bit more concern is research that shows oil pulling can lead to lipoid pneumonia. Researchers discovered that oil pulling could lead to recurring bouts of this lung infection. This type of pneumonia occurs when lipids, like oil, enter the lungs.

Mineral aspiration (breathing them in), which can happen when you’re swishing the oil for long periods, has also been shown to be a cause of lipoid pneumonia.

toothbrush and dental flossADA Recommendation

Because of these adverse health effects, along with cases of upset stomach and diarrhea, the American Dental Association (ADA) does not recommend oil pulling even as a supplementary practice for oral hygiene.

It prefers we follow the standard regimen of brushing our teeth with fluoride toothpaste 2 times a day and flossing.

The ADA also believes that the research studies are “not reliable” for a number of reasons including the misinterpretation of results, absence of negative controls and a few others. It also states that the insufficient scientific based evidence behind oil pulling makes it something they do not back.


What Types of Oil to Use for Oil Pulling

When it comes to choosing oils, the recommendation is one without chemical residues, is organic and unrefined. This means to stay away from corn oil and canola.

Instead, the better options are sesame oil and sunflower oil, if you wanted to follow the more traditional Ayurvedic practices, or use olive oil or coconut oil as many more modern practitioners do.

Among the choices of oil, coconut oil seems to have one of the biggest followings.

1. Coconut Oil

coconut oil bottleWhat makes coconut oil an ideal choice is that is contains a number of health benefits including killing candida, balancing hormones, improving skin, digestion and lipid levels as well as fighting some diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Coconut oil also has bacteria fighting properties as well as lauric acid, which is anti-microbial. This helps make it potentially more effective against bacteria, and other microorganisms.

A study by the Department of Pedodontics and Preventive Dentistry at the Kannur Dental College in India found that pulling with coconut oil reduced the formation of plaque and gingivitis in 60 boys and girls.

2. Sesame Oil

Sesame oil is another good option if you decide to try oil pulling. It is one of the main fluids recommended for oil pulling based on Ayurvedic texts. Doing so has been shown the help reduce inflammation and dryness in the mouth as well as prevent oral disease.

Sesame oil has been shown to reduce the amount of Streptococcus mutans, which is an oral bacteria, as well as help fight halitosis (bad breath) in studies.

3. Olive Oil

extra virgin olive oilThis is another very popular option. Olive oil ranks up there right beside coconut oil when it comes to oil used for oil pulling. Choosing between them really depends on your preference.

Keep in mind that you’ll be swishing the oil for a good amount of time.

Olive oil does have a bit of a taste to it. This can make it difficult to keep in your mouth for more than a few seconds if you don’t like its flavor.

Otherwise, it’s a great option to use as well.

One final tip when it comes to olive oil for oil pulling through. Don’t use the expensive ones for this. After all, you’ll be spitting it out after you’re done swishing. Go with the cheaper bottles.


Our Final Thoughts

Oil pulling seems to work as a way to improve your overall oral health. Our experiment with it went well resulting in a bit whiter teeth and less plaque after 10 days. Many others have tried and gotten similar results including well known health professionals.

Whether it’s right for you or not depends on you.

It is a good alternative to using mouthwash. It uses natural ingredients, you save money, and don’t have to deal with the stinging sensation that most antiseptic mouthwashes have.

On the other hand, whichever oil you use, it isn’t going to taste great. I’ll be honest with you, it’s a bit tough to stomach. This is why we recommend started with very little and working your way up. The same is true for duration, start with a few minutes and gradually increase the time.

Whether or not you choose to start oil pulling, remember not to stop brushing your teeth. Oil pulling isn’t meant to replace brushing but to supplement it.