Oil pulling is an ancient, Indian folk remedy claimed to whiten your teeth, freshen your breath and greatly improve your oral health.

Using coconut oil for oil pulling is becoming increasingly popular.

A lot of people swear by this remedy, and many say it also improves their health in other ways.

This article explores whether there is any truth behind these claims or whether oil pulling is just another useless trend.

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Oil pulling involves swishing oil around the mouth, using it like a mouthwash. It has been used for thousands of years as an Indian folk remedy.

In order to oil pull, you put a tablespoon of oil in your mouth, then swish it around for 15–20 minutes.

The main benefit of doing this is that it reduces the amount of harmful bacteria in the mouth.

There are hundreds of different types of bacteria in your mouth. While many of them are friendly, others are not.

The bacteria in your mouth create a biofilm on your teeth, a thin layer known as plaque.

Having some plaque on your teeth is perfectly normal, but if it gets out of hand, it can cause various problems, including bad breath, gum inflammation, gingivitis and cavities.

The way oil pulling works is simple — when you swish the oil around your mouth, the bacteria get swept away and dissolve in the liquid oil.

Oil pulling should work with pretty much any oil, but extra-virgin coconut oil is a popular choice due to its pleasant taste.

It also has a favorable fatty acid profile, containing high amounts of lauric acid, which has antimicrobial properties (1).

For more information about the benefits of oil pulling, check out this article.

Summary Oil pulling is an ancient Indian remedy to clean the mouth and teeth. It is claimed to reduce the risk of cavities, gingivitis and bad breath.

Streptococcus mutans is one of the main bacteria in your mouth and a key player in plaque buildup and tooth decay.

One study in 60 adults showed that oil pulling with coconut oil for 10 minutes every day significantly reduced the number of S. mutans in saliva in as little as two weeks, compared to distilled water (2).

Another study in children concluded that coconut oil was as effective as a standard chlorhexidine mouthwash at reducing S. mutans (3).

While these results are promising, more studies are needed comparing the effectiveness of coconut oil to other types of oils.

Summary Using coconut oil as a mouthwash can significantly reduce the number of harmful bacteria, such as S. mutans, in your mouth.

Gingivitis is caused by inflammation of the gums and occurs when your immune system starts attacking the bacteria in the plaque.

One study in 20 adolescent boys with plaque-induced gingivitis compared the effects of sesame oil pulling and a standard chlorhexidine mouthwash.

Both oil pulling and mouthwash were effective against gingivitis (4).

Coconut oil has similar benefits. Another one-month study in 60 adolescents found that daily coconut oil pulling significantly reduced markers of gingivitis (5).

Summary Oil pulling with coconut oil may help reduce inflammation of the gums, also known as gingivitis.

Bad breath, otherwise known as halitosis, is in many cases caused by the smell of chemicals and gases produced by bacteria in your mouth.

It’s associated with infections, gingivitis and overall poor oral hygiene (6).

It makes sense that if you get rid of some of these bacteria and improve your oral health, you reduce the likelihood of having bad breath.

A study in 20 adolescents showed that oil pulling with sesame oil significantly reduced all markers of bad breath and was as effective as a chlorhexidine mouthwash (7).

More studies need to examine whether oil pulling with coconut oil has similar benefits for halitosis. But given that it may reduce plaque and gingivitis, it seems likely.

Summary Some evidence suggests oil pulling with sesame oil reduces bad breath. Coconut oil may have the same effect.

There are many misconceptions about oil pulling.

One common claim is that oil pulling can whiten your teeth. However, currently no studies confirm this benefit (8).

Some people also believe that oil pulling is a type of detox that draws toxins from the blood. No evidence supports this idea.

Finally, there is no scientific evidence that this remedy helps treat any diseases other than those affecting the mouth.

Summary There are plenty of myths and misconceptions about oil pulling. Currently, no evidence supports claims that oil pulling whitens your teeth or eliminates toxins in your blood.

Oil pulling is incredibly simple:

  1. Put about a tablespoon of oil in your mouth
  2. Swish the oil around your mouth for about 15–20 minutes
  3. Spit out the oil, then brush your teeth

It’s best to spit the oil out onto a piece of paper and put it in the trash — the fat might otherwise clog your pipes over time.

There is no need to use a lot of force. If oil pulling causes pain in your facial muscles, relax a bit. Try using less oil next time and don't swish it around too forcefully.

Some people say it’s best to oil pull on an empty stomach, before brushing your teeth. Many do it while showering or bathing in the morning.

Summary Oil pulling is simple. Put one tablespoon of oil in your mouth, swish it around for 15–20 minutes and spit it out. Then rinse with water and brush your teeth.

Oil pulling with coconut oil is a simple method that may reduce your risk of bad breath, cavities and gingivitis.

There are plenty of other health claims associated with oil pulling, but most are not supported by science.

Nevertheless, oil pulling seems to be an excellent complementary strategy to improve your oral hygiene. It’s definitely worth trying.