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The Ultimate Guide to Oil Pulling: Does it Work?

The Ultimate Guide to Oil Pulling: Does it Work?

Swishing a form of oil around in your mouth for 10 to 20 minutes or more is believed to remove bacteria, whiten your teeth, improve your gum health and alleviate bad breath – it sounds like a miracle for minimal work!

But is it a case of something that is just too good to be true?

Well, oil pulling is a very controversial subject – whilst there is some scientific evidence to back up these claims, many Dentists believes it contravenes all scientific factors of the mouth and thus have seen no proof of it ever working.

This topic is very debatable – many swear by it, whilst others think it does nothing more than clog their sink and make them gag.

So, I will be giving you both sides of the story today, and that way you can make your own decision.

The knowledge you will gain today includes;

  • The general ins and outs of oil pulling
  • Opinions of medical professionals
  • The scientific studies

This post is a little longer than normal, so see below a Table of Contents.

This will help you skip straight through to any section you would prefer to read.

However, for all you happy little readers out there, try reading all the way from start to finish as you’ll find yourself picking up a lot of valuable information along the way!

What is Oil Pulling?

Oil pulling is an ancient Ayurvedic method that involves swishing some form of oil, generally coconut or sesame oil, in your mouth for between 5 to 20 minutes.

The theory behind it is that it uses the fat in the oils to purify your mouth of toxins and bacteria to improve the health of your gums – whereas normally this is stored inside your body fat.

5 Common Beliefs about Oil Pulling

  1. “Pull” the toxins out
  2. Remove the bacteria that cause cavities
  3. Whiten your teeth by penetrating and loosening plaque
  4. Improve your gum health
  5. Improve bad breath

The amount of time you spend “swishing” is a key factor – the longer the oil is in your mouth, the better the results.

Oil pulling at least twice a week is meant to help keep your mouth free of toxins and bacteria.

Coconut oil is the more beneficial oil due to its antimicrobial properties, but sesame oil is what was traditionally used in Ayurvedic practices due to its availability in India in the past. It too still has preventative and balancing effects.

A woman performing Oil Pulling

A woman trying the Oil Pulling technique

How Do You Perform Oil Pulling?

So, how exactly does an oil pulling procedure work?

Well, it goes a little something like this.

7 Tips to Oil Pulling

  • Perform first thing in the morning on an empty stomach (yep, that’s right, before your coffee).
  • Begin using 1 teaspoon of oil (coconut or sesame oil) and swish around in your mouth for 20 minutes before spitting in the bin. When finished, ALWAYS spit the oil into your bin and not down the sink, as it could clog the drains and leave you with a very hefty plumbers bill! Also, be careful not to swallow the oil, or you’ll be swallowing the toxins!
  • Over time, slowly increase this amount to 2 tablespoons. DO NOT start with 2 tablespoons immediately, as 20 minutes is quite a long time and can be difficult – the oil will double in size in your mouth over this time as it pulls the toxins out and your mouth will feel very full. Just start slowly and work your way up.
  • Try not to “swish” too strenuously as it can be hard on your jaw after 20 minutes. Just be gentle.
  • Rinse your mouth with warm water.
  • Brush your teeth as normal.
  • Perform either as either a fortnight oral detox, or regularly twice per week.

*Take note – you may get a headache (similar to any other detox), so drink a lot of water to try and prevent this occurring.

**Check with your Dentist if you are pregnant or breastfeeding prior to performing. *

Does Oil Pulling Actually Work? – Why Dentists’ Say No

One theory on oil pulling in the mouth is that it contravenes everything that the microbiome (bacterial organisms) do in your mouth.

That is, it’s unnatural and it goes against the science in the mouth – so it’s no good for you at all.

The microbiome has healthy, well-behaving bacteria (probiotics) as well as a lot of bacteria that behave poorly and cause a lot of destruction in the mouth (pathogens).

So, what you are trying to do in the mouth through oil pulling is rid yourself of the pathogens. But;

  1. If you’re trying to rid your mouth of bacteria, it’s simply not possible.
  2. You actually NEED a healthy balance of microbiome, that is, a healthy balance of probiotics and pathogens in the mouth – or the well-behaving bacteria to kill the naughty bacteria.

The way a Dentist will suggest that you keep up a healthy balance of bacteria in your mouth is not with oil pulling.

3 Ways to Improve the Balance of Bacteria

  • Diet
  • Hydration
  • Having a healthy immune system

Trialled by wellness blogger Leah Goulis on her blog “I tried oil pulling for a week, and this is what happened”, oil pulling did not go so well for her – it did nothing but give her a headache, clog her sink and make her gag!

She confirmed her opinions with Melbourne cosmetic Dentist Dr Reuben Sim from Dental Boutique, who believes oil pulling is nothing but a controversial trend increased in popularity by “health hipsters”.

“While the online world would have you believe oil pulling is a ‘cure’ for everything – discoloured teeth, acne and even a hangover, the science behind this glam trend isn’t nearly as glamorous or effective to improve your oral hygiene as you may be lead to think,” says Dr Sim.

“There is little to no research and only a few published clinical studies that prove oil pulling is somewhat effective to improve oral hygiene and prevent dental problems such as bad breath, gingivitis, cavities and stained teeth.”

Whilst Dr. Sim believes there is no harm in oil pulling, he also believes there are far better options to achieve better oral health and whiter teeth – just discuss your wishes with your Dentist and they’ll help you get that beautiful smile you’re chasing, because oil pulling is not the answer.

Coconut oil used for oil pulling

Coconut oil used for oil pulling

Does Oil Pulling Actually Work? – The Scientific Studies

Limited research has actually been done on oil pulling, but there are still science-backed studies that have been done that explain the benefits of oil pulling. Evidence includes;

Oil Pulling Can Kill the Harmful Bacteria in Your Mouth

Approximately 700 different types of bacteria can live in a mouth, and at any one time you may find up to 350 of them in yours.

Some of these bacteria contribute to problems such as tooth decay, halitosis (bad breath), and periodontitis (gum disease).

There have been multiple studies done that have proven that oil pulling can actually help reduce the number of ‘naughty’ bacteria in the mouth.

In a study done in 2008, over a two-week period, 20 children were asked to use either a normal mouthwash or instead did oil pulling with sesame oil for just 10 minutes a day.

After only one week, both the mouthwash and oil pulling helped to significantly lower the count of bacteria in their saliva and plaque. The results of this test can be seen here.

A more recent study, performed in 2016, found similar results. In this test, 60 people were asked to rinse their mouths using either mouthwash, water, or coconut oil for a two-week period.

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

Oil pulling with coconut oil for 10 minutes daily significantly lowered the amount of S. mutans in saliva in as little as two weeks, compared to distilled water.

Another study in children, also performed in 2016, showed that coconut oil is just as effective as standard mouthwash at reducing Streptococcus mutans. Results of this test can be seen here.

It is believed through these studies that reducing the count of bacteria in your mouth can help with your oral hygiene and prevent some dental issues from forming.

However, it is also believed that more studies are needed to compare coconut oil to other types of oils.

SUMMARY – Using coconut oil as a mouthwash has been proven to significantly reduce the number of harmful bacteria, such as S. mutans, in your mouth.

Oil Pulling Could Help Reduce Bad Breath

Bad breath, or halitosis, is a dental condition which affects approximately 50% of the population.

Caused by the smell of chemicals and gases produced by bacteria in your mouth, there are many possible causes for halitosis, the most common including infection, gingivitis or periodontitis (gum disease), a poor dental cleaning regime, and a tongue coating (when bacteria becomes trapped on your tongue).

Treatment for halitosis includes removing bacteria, either by brushing or by using an antiseptic mouthwash.

However, one study performed in 2011 found that oil pulling is as effective as a chlorhexidine mouthwash at reducing halitosis.

The study had 20 children rinsing their mouth with either chlorhexidine or sesame oil, and both lead to a significant decrease in the number of microorganisms known to lead to bad breath.

As such, it is believed that a little more research would be the deciding factor on whether oil pulling with coconut oil has similar benefits for halitosis – and if so, then oil pulling would make an effective, natural treatment for halitosis, that is just as efficient as traditional treatments currently used.

SUMMARY – Some evidence suggests oil pulling with sesame oil reduces halitosis. Coconut oil may have the same effect, but this has not yet ben proven. However, given that it may reduce plaque and gingivitis, it seems likely.

Oil Pulling May Help Prevent Cavities

Cavities – a common problem that come from tooth decay.

Tooth decay is caused by a poor dental cleaning regime, eating too much sugar, and a build-up of bacteria. All of this leads to the formation of holes in your teeth – which are known as cavities.

Cavities can also be caused by plaque – as plaque forms a coating on your teeth, which is made up of bacteria, saliva and food particles, this bacteria begins to break down the food particles and forms an acid which destructs your tooth enamel and causes tooth decay.

Several studies have been done which show that oil pulling can actually help lower the number of bacteria in the mouth, helping to prevent tooth decay.

Another study have even found that oil pulling is just as effective as mouthwash in reducing the number of ‘naughty’ bacteria in your saliva and plaque.

SUMMARY – Reducing the count of bacteria through oil pulling could help prevent tooth decay, which can reduce the risk of cavities forming.

Oil Pulling Seems to Reduce Inflammation and Improve Gum Health

The symptoms of gingivitis – or gum disease – are red, swollen gums that bleed easily.

The bacteria that is found in plaque is one of the major causes of gingivitis, as it can cause bleeding of and inflammation in your gums.

However, it seems as though oil pulling could be an effective way to improve the health of your gums and reduce inflammation. Its main benefit is that is decreases the harmful bacteria and plaque in the mouth that lead to gum disease, such as Streptococcus mutans.

A study done in 2015 had 60 people with gingivitis perform oil pulling with coconut oil for 30 days.

After just one week, the amount of plaque they had was reduced, and they had shown an improvement in gum health. Results of this study can be seen here.

Another study compared the effectiveness of oil pulling with sesame oil against a standard mouthwash.

20 boys with gingivitis took part in the study, and all showed a reduction in plaque, an improvement in gingivitis and a decrease in the number of ‘naughty’ bacteria in their mouth.

SUMMARY – Although more evidence is required, these findings do suggest that oil pulling may be an effective additional treatment to prevent plaque formation, reduce inflammation and promote healthy gums.

The Unproven Benefits and Misconceptions of Oil Pulling

There are many misconceptions about oil pulling. Research on the other proposed benefits of oil pulling are limited.

The most common is that oil pulling can whiten your teeth. However, currently there are no studies on this claim, only anecdotal evidence.

It is also suggested that oil pulling is a type of detox that draws toxins from the blood. However, there is no evidence that supports this idea.

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

There are claims that the anti-inflammatory effects of oil pulling may have other benefits on certain conditions linked to inflammation.

No studies have evaluated the effectiveness of oil pulling on these conditions, though it may be possible, given its potential to relieve inflammation.

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

Benefits: Cheap and Easy to Add to Your Routine

Two of the biggest benefits to oil pulling are how easily it can be done, and how it requires just one ingredient that you quite possibly already have in your kitchen.

Traditionally, sesame oil was used for oil pulling, but other types of oil can be used as well.

Coconut oil has strong anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that are great for oil pulling. Olive oil is also popular as it can fight inflammation.

What Else is Available Instead of Oil Pulling?

Your best option for teeth whitening is always a professional tooth whitening treatment at your Dental clinic – nobody does a better job than your Dentist!

However, if you’re looking to do the job at home, see our article “Teeth Whitening Kits You Can Buy in Australia in 2019”  for 35 safe, effective different DIY options!

Conclusion

Oil pulling – the ancient Ayurvedic method that is thought to be a miracle worker for your teeth!

All it takes is swishing 1 teaspoon to 2 tablespoons of oil in your mouth for 20 minutes – coconut oil, sesame oil, or even olive oil. This is thought to whiten your teeth, get rid of any toxins and bacteria that cause cavities, improve your gum health and improve bad breath!

However, is this really the case?

Well, if you ask a Dentist, chances are that they will say no – its going to destroy the balance of bacteria in your mouth. The Dentist would rather you look after your diet, hydration and immune system by your nutrition.

However, scientific studies have proven that oil pulling can kill the ‘naughty’ bacteria in your mouth.

This can reduce halitosis (bad breath), prevent tooth decay and cavities from forming, and reduce inflammation, gingivitis and periodontitis (gum disease). However, as for teeth whitening and “pulling out” toxins – this may be a myth.

So, what should you do? It’s not going to harm you to give it a go – just don’t expect a miracle!

If you want whitening, seeing your Dentist for a professional teeth whitening or buying a DIY whitening kit is still the way to go.

If you’ve tried Oil Pulling, what do you think of it?

Andrew Adams

By Andrew Adams

Created at October 11, 2019, Updated at March 06, 2020

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