We’ve talked before about the benefits of oil pulling, an ancient Ayurvedic practice that essentially involves swishing oil around in your mouth. Those benefits are numerous, as a 2017 review of the science neatly sums up:
Oil pulling generates antioxidants which damage the cell wall of microorganisms and kill them. These oils will attract the lipid layer of bacterial cell membranes, and cause it to stick or get attracted, and pulled to the oil…. [The] oil will coat the teeth and gingiva and inhibits bacterial co-aggregation and plaque formation. Thus, plaque building bacteria responsible for dental caries, gingivitis, periodontitis, and bad breath are removed from the oral cavity. Gums become pink, healthier, and problem of bleeding gums is solved. Oil pulling is also of help to resolve symptoms of dry mouth/throat and chapped lips. Also, teeth become whiter; breath becomes fresher; oral cavity muscles and jaws become stronger with excellent achievement of oral hygiene. Oil pulling prevents dental caries, gingivitis, oral candidiasis and periodontitis from occurring, helps to reduce tooth pain, fixes mobile teeth and achieves vigorous oral hygiene.
Throughout the ages, many different oils have been used for oil pulling. While sesame oil is traditional, coconut oil is the modern favorite, as it’s especially effective against oral pathogens such as two of the main players in tooth decay: Streptococcus mutans and Candida albicans.
One big reason why? Coconut oil is especially rich in lauric acid. This compound is both antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory. It also gives coconut oil a “high saponification index.” Saponification is the process through which alkalis convert fatty acids into fatty acid salts – a/k/a soap.
This process can occur to some degree in the mouth as the coconut oil is exposed to alkalis that are naturally present in saliva. This, in turn, appears to help clean the teeth and reduce plaque.
Other recent research lends further support for coconut oil pulling, such as the randomized, controlled trial published last fall in the Journal of Clinical & Diagnostic Research. The participants were asked to rinse their mouths for 10 minutes each morning. Half were given coconut oil to use; half were given a mineral water placebo.
After one week, the coconut oil group had lower plaque scores.
Similar results were reported in a Nigerian study of oil pulling’s effects on periodontal (gum) health. After 30 days of coconut oil pulling, participants showed statistically significant reductions in both plaque and plaque-related gingivitis (early stage gum disease).
Ready to try it for yourself? Here’s what you need to know:
- Oil pulling is best done first thing in the morning, before you eat or drink anything. Some recommend first removing plaque from the tongue with a scraper. This tool is 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 with coconut oil, which is solid at room temperature and needs some time to melt in your mouth. So start with just a teaspoon and swoosh it around in your mouth for about 5 minutes. Go longer if you can. Gradually 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 salt water, then floss and brush as usual.
Want to learn more? Check out Bruce Fife’s excellent guide, Oil Pulling Therapy: Detoxifying and Healing the Body through Oral Cleansing.
Top image by thedabblist, via Flickr