Coconut Oil Pulling: Does It Work?

Medically reviewed by Debra Sullivan, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE, COI on April 6, 2016Written by Jennifer Purdie

What is oil pulling?

Oil pulling comes from an ayurvedic medical practice that people have used for thousands of years. Oil pulling involves swishing oil around in your mouth to reduce bacteria. That’s why the practice is also known as “oil swishing therapy.”

During an “oil pull,” people swish approximately 1 tablespoon of oil around in their mouths for 20 to 30 minutes. After the time is up, you spit the oil out. The purpose of this practice is to kill harmful bacteria and transform oral health.

Oil swishing dates back 3,000 years to India. It’s attracting thousands of new practitioners who appreciate its organic, non-medicinal nature. This practice has research-backed benefits.

Why use coconut oil?

Coconut oil has a benefit that other oils don’t have. According to a 2015 study published in the Nigerian Medical Journal, coconut oil is unique because it contains a medium chain of fatty acids made up of lauric acid. Lauric acid has both anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects.

In this study, 60 children ages 16 to 18 with plaque-induced gingivitis were asked to include oil pulling in their oral routine every day for 30 days. They were assessed at days one, seven, 15, and 30. Researchers found a significant decrease in plaque and gingivitis indications on day seven and beyond.

Researchers at the Athlone Institute of Technology in Ireland also reported that the antibiotic component from coconut oil could be added to dental care products. They found that digested coconut oil stopped the majority of Streptococcus bacteria from multiplying. Streptococcus is a bacteria that causes pink eye and strep throat, as well as more serious illnesses, such as pneumonia.

What are the benefits?

For thousands of years, people have used oils as a way to:

  • help treat dry lips
  • strengthen tooth enamel
  • alleviate sore jaws and bleeding gums
  • prevent tooth decay

People believe that oil pulling has similar benefits. People also believe it helps fight gingivitis, plaque, and even bad breath.

Some people believe that all of the toxins and bacteria building up in the mouth over the day can be drawn out through the use of oil. Most microorganisms in the mouth are single-celled. When this cell comes into contact with oil, they’re drawn to each other. Once you spit out the oil, these microorganisms disappear

Learn more: 10 Best practices for healthy teeth »

Risk factors to keep in mind

You can use sesame or sunflower oil for this process instead if you’re allergic to coconut. These oil options can still help with decreasing bacteria levels.

You shouldn’t use oil pulling as a replacement for your current oral care. You should still see a dentist regularly and brush your teeth at least twice per day.

Tips for oil pulling

If you want to begin oil pulling, consider starting with five minutes of swishing per day. Many people find it challenging to start off with 20 to 30 minutes right away.

Follow these tips if you want to begin oil pulling:

  • Gurgling isn’t necessary. You can use a gentle swishing movement around your teeth and gums, which won’t cause you to gag like gurgling can.
  • Try not to swallow. You only need a small amount, which should make it easier to swish for the full time.
  • Don’t spit the oil into the sink. Keep a garbage nearby to avoid clogging the sinks.
  • Brush your teeth after oil pulling. This method is meant to complement your oral care and not replace it.

The takeaway

Oil pulling is backed by research and thousands of years of practice. Coconut oil is recommended for its vast dental health benefits, making it more beneficial to use than other oils on the market. If you’re nervous about trying oil pulling, you should talk with your dentist. Together, you can determine whether this is the best option for you.

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