Oil pulling is an ancient practice that involves swishing oil in your mouth to remove bacteria and promote oral hygiene.
It is often associated with Auyrveda, the traditional medicine system from India.
Studies suggest that oil pulling can kill bacteria in the mouth and improve dental health. Some alternative medicine practitioners also claim that it can help treat several diseases (1).
While it's not entirely clear how oil pulling works, it's claimed to "pull" bacteria from the mouth. It may also help by moisturizing your gums and increasing saliva production, which can reduce bacteria (2).
Some types of oil also contain properties that can naturally reduce inflammation and bacteria to promote oral health (2).
However, research on oil pulling is limited, and there is much debate over how beneficial it really is.
This article looks at some of the science-backed benefits of oil pulling and then explains how to do it in order to maximize benefit.
There are approximately 700 types of bacteria that can live in your mouth, and up to 350 of them may be found in your mouth at any given time (3).
Several studies have shown that oil pulling could help reduce the number of harmful bacteria in the mouth.
In one two-week study, 20 children either used a standard mouthwash or did oil pulling with sesame oil for 10 minutes daily.
After just one week, both the mouthwash and oil pulling significantly reduced the number of harmful bacteria found in the saliva and plaque (7).
A recent study found similar results. It had 60 participants rinse their mouths using either mouthwash, water or coconut oil for two weeks. Both mouthwash and coconut oil were found to reduce the number of bacteria found in saliva (8).
Decreasing the number of bacteria in the mouth can help support proper oral hygiene and prevent some conditions.
Halitosis, also known as bad breath, is a condition that affects an estimated 50% of the population.
There are many potential causes of bad breath.
Some of the most common include infection, gum disease, poor oral hygiene and tongue coating, which is when bacteria become trapped on the tongue (9).
Treatment typically includes the removal of the bacteria, either through brushing or by using an antiseptic mouthwash like chlorhexidine (10).
Interestingly, one study found that oil pulling was as effective as chlorhexidine at reducing bad breath.
In that study, 20 children rinsed with either chlorhexidine or sesame oil, both of which caused a significant decrease in levels of the microorganisms known to contribute to bad breath (11).
Though more research is needed, oil pulling may be used as a natural alternative to reduce bad breath and could be as effective as traditional treatments.
Cavities are a common problem that stems from tooth decay.
Poor oral hygiene, eating too much sugar and a buildup of bacteria can all cause tooth decay, which leads to the formation of holes in the teeth known as cavities.
Plaque can also cause cavities. Plaque forms a coating on teeth and is comprised of bacteria, saliva and food particles. The bacteria begin to break down the food particles, forming an acid that destroys tooth enamel and causes tooth decay (4).
Several studies have found that oil pulling can help reduce the number of bacteria in the mouth, preventing tooth decay.
Decreasing these strains of bacteria through oil pulling could help prevent tooth decay and reduce the risk of cavity formation.
Gingivitis is a type of gum disease marked by red, swollen gums that bleed easily.
The bacteria found in plaque are a major cause of gingivitis, as they can cause bleeding and inflammation in the gums (12).
Fortunately, oil pulling may be an effective remedy to improve gum health and reduce inflammation.
It works primarily by decreasing the harmful bacteria and plaque in the mouth that contribute to gum disease, such as Streptococcus mutans.
Using certain oils with anti-inflammatory properties like coconut oil may also aid by reducing the inflammation associated with gum disease (13).
In one study, 60 participants with gingivitis began oil pulling with coconut oil for 30 days. After one week, they had reduced amounts of plaque and showed an improvement in gum health (14).
Another study in 20 boys with gingivitis compared the effectiveness of oil pulling with sesame oil and a standard mouthwash.
Both groups showed a decrease in plaque, an improvement in gingivitis and a reduction in the number of harmful bacteria in the mouth (15).
While more evidence is needed, these findings suggest that oil pulling may be an effective supplementary treatment to prevent plaque formation and promote healthy gums.
Although proponents of oil pulling claim that it may benefit a wide variety of other conditions not mentioned above, research on the benefits of oil pulling is limited.
That said, the anti-inflammatory effects of oil pulling may have a beneficial effect on certain conditions linked to inflammation.
While no studies have evaluated the effectiveness of oil pulling on these conditions, it may be a possibility given its potential to relieve inflammation.
Furthermore, there is anecdotal evidence that oil pulling could be a natural way to whiten your teeth.
Some claim that it's able to pull stains from the surface of teeth, resulting in a whitening effect, although there is no scientific research to back this up.
Two of the biggest benefits to oil pulling are how simple it is to do and how easily it can be incorporated into your daily regimen.
Additionally, it requires just one ingredient that can be found right in your kitchen, so there's no need to buy anything.
Traditionally, sesame oil has been used for oil pulling, but other types of oil can be used as well.
For example, coconut oil possesses strong anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that can be especially useful for oil pulling. Olive oil is another popular choice thanks to its ability to fight inflammation (16, 17).
To get started, set aside just 20 minutes each day for oil pulling and use the extra time to multitask around home, all while improving your oral hygiene.
Oil pulling is easy to do and involves just a few simple steps.
Here are the 4 simple steps to do oil pulling:
- Measure one tablespoon of oil, such as coconut, sesame or olive oil.
- Swish it around in your mouth for 15–20 minutes, being careful not to swallow any.
- Spit the oil into a trash can once you're done. Avoid spitting it into the sink or toilet, as this can cause a buildup of oil, which may lead to clogging.
- Rinse your mouth well using water before eating or drinking anything.
Repeat these steps a few times per week or up to three times daily. You may also want to work your way up, starting with swishing for just 5 minutes and increasing the duration until you're able to do it for a full 15–20 minutes.
For best results, most recommend doing this first thing in the morning on an empty stomach, although you can adapt based on your personal preferences (2).
Some studies suggest that oil pulling may decrease harmful bacteria in your mouth, prevent plaque formation and improve both gum health and oral hygiene.
However, the research is relatively limited.
Additionally, note that it should not be used in place of traditional oral hygiene practices, such as brushing your teeth, flossing, getting routine cleanings and consulting your dentist regarding any oral hygiene problems.
Yet when used as a supplementary treatment, oil pulling may be a safe and effective natural remedy to improve your oral health.