Ancient Remedies for Modern Health: Oil Pulling

Previously, we mentioned oil pulling as a great technique for amping up your home hygiene. This ancient Ayurvedic practice has seen a huge revival lately, and frankly, we couldn’t be happier.

Oil pulling essentially involves swishing oil around in your mouth for 15 to 20 minutes each morning. According to a review published in the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, it has been “claimed to cure about 30 systemic diseases ranging from headache, migraine to diabetes and asthma.” Reported dental benefits include healthier gums, stronger teeth, less decay and reduced bad breath.

And science has lent weight to those claims. One study, published in the Journal of the Indian Society of Pedodontics and Preventive Dentistry, found that oil pulling was just as effective as chlorhexidine – a powerful antimicrobial rinse – in preventing bad breath and keeping oral pathogens (“germs” that cause disease) in check. This confirmed results of an earlier study in the Indian Journal of Dental Research, which also found that oil pulling improved gum health. Yet another study found that oil pulling was effective in controlling for S. mutans in particular – a major cause of tooth decay – and concluded plainly, “Oil pulling can be used as an effective preventive adjunct in maintaining and improving oral health.”

What’s not yet clear is how, exactly, oil pulling works. On his office blog, veteran biological dentist Dr. Bill Glaros summarizes some of the main hypotheses:

Most often, you hear that the oil “pulls” bacteria from the mouth into the oil – a theory rooted in the chemical principle that “like dissolves like.” This suggests that oil is able to cut through and break up the biofilm (“plaque”) on your teeth without damaging the enamel. It’s also believed that the oil’s low viscosity keeps microbes from sticking to the teeth, which in turn makes it harder for them to recolonize.

Ayurvedic tradition insists on sesame oil for oil pulling, and, in fact, that’s the oil used in most studies. But as we’ve learned more about the amazing antimicrobial properties of coconut oil, many now recommend that instead. A comparison of several different oils found that, unlike sesame oil, coconut oil was effective against both S. mutans and C. albicans, a fungus that works in tandem with S. mutans to create extra strong biofilms (plaque) on the teeth.

So it’s no surprise to see results like these in case studies:

[reduced] gingival inflammation and bleeding gum, improved patient-centered outcomes, improved clinical sign of inflammation, less bleeding, and pain relief.

Whether you have gum disease you need to get under control or just want to be vigilant in keeping your teeth and gums as healthy as they can be, we encourage you to give oil pulling a try!

The Basics of Oil Pulling  


Image: Flickr –

  • Oil pulling is best done first thing in the morning, before any food or drink. Some recommend first using a tongue scraper to remove plaque from the tongue before taking the oil. (Scrapers are available in the dental aisle of many drugstores and can also be bought online.)
  • Start small and slow. Oil pulling can feel a little strange at first – especially if you are using coconut oil, which is solid at room temperature and needs some time to melt in your mouth. So start with just a teaspoon of oil and swoosh it around in your mouth for about 5 minutes. If you can go longer, do. Eventually, you’ll want to work up to a tablespoon of oil for 15 to 20 minutes daily.
  • When you’re done, spit the oil into the trash, not the sink! Oils harden when they get cold and can clog your plumbing.
  • Rinse with warm water or even salt water, which may have additional antimicrobial properties.
  • Floss and brush as usual.

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