Oil pulling may reduce the harmful bacteria in your mouth and decrease your risk of some health conditions. But no evidence suggests it draws toxins from the blood or whitens your teeth.

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.

Many 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 ineffective trend.

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What is oil pulling, and how does it work?

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

The main benefit of oil pulling 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 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:

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 almost 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.

Learn more about the benefits of oil pulling.


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

Coconut oil pulling can reduce harmful bacteria in your mouth

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

One 2016 study in 60 adults showed that oil pulling with coconut oil for 10 minutes daily significantly reduced the number of S. mutans in saliva in as little as 2 weeks, compared to distilled water.

An older study in children concluded that coconut oil was as effective as a standard chlorhexidine mouthwash at reducing S. mutans.

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


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

Oil pulling can reduce plaque and gingivitis

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

A 2020 study of 20 adults determined that virgin coconut oil was effective at reducing the accumulation of plaque when used in oil pulling. The authors note that more research is still needed.

One 2017 study involving 40 dental students compared the effects of coconut oil pulling and a placebo. Researchers found oil pulling effective at reducing plaque.


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

Oil pulling can reduce bad breath

Bad breath, otherwise known as halitosis, often occurs because of the smell of chemicals and gases produced by bacteria in your mouth.

People with halitosis typically have an underlying cause, which can include:

  • overall poor oral hygiene
  • gingivitis
  • cavities
  • infections
  • some digestive conditions

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.

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.


Oil pulling may reduce bad breath.

Unproven benefits and misconceptions

One common claim is that oil pulling can whiten your teeth. Currently, no studies confirm this benefit.

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 diseases other than those affecting the mouth.


Currently, no evidence supports claims that oil pulling whitens your teeth or eliminates toxins in your blood.

How to oil pull

To try oil pulling:

  1. Put about 1 tbsp (15 mL) 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 onto a piece of paper and put it in the trash, as it 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.


Oil pulling is simple. Put 1 tbsp (15 mL) of oil in your mouth, swish it around for 15–20 minutes and spit it out. Then rinse with water and brush your teeth.

What does oil pulling actually do?

Oil pulling may help reduce the bacteria in your mouth that cause plaque.

Do dentists recommend oil pulling?

The American Dental Association (ADA) does not recommend oil pulling based on a lack of scientific research supporting it.

Should you brush your teeth before or after oil pulling?

Proponents of oil pulling recommend brushing your teeth after oil pulling.

What oil do you use for oil pulling?

Oils typically recommended for oil pulling include coconut oil, sesame oil, and sunflower oil.

The bottom line

Oil pulling with coconut oil may reduce your risk of bad breath, cavities, and gingivitis.

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

Nevertheless, oil pulling seems to have promise as a complementary strategy to improve your oral hygiene.