Friend: Your teeth are so bright and shiny! What’s your secret?
Me: Thanks! 💁♀️ I oil pull…
Friend: You oil what?
The Ayurvedic practice of oil pulling — swishing oil around in your mouth then spitting it out — has been around for thousands of years.
It’s rumored to have quite the long list of health benefits, too. Everything from fresher breath, to clearer skin, to balanced hormones and a stronger immune system.
So why don’t more of us know about it? And more importantly, why aren’t we all doing it every day?
Today’s mission: figure out whether swishing and spitting some oil can really make a difference to your health (and appearance)!
What We Know
Oil pulling gets its name from the fact that you’re basically pushing and “pulling” oil through your teeth and mouth, and also because doing so supposedly “pulls” the gunk out of your mouth (like unwanted toxins and bacteria).
That second reason is why it’s important to spit out the oil, not swallow it.
The basic oil pulling process goes like this:
- Pick your oil
Coconut oil, sunflower oil, sesame oil, and olive oil are the most common. Look for extra-virgin and/or organic oils.
Use about a tablespoon of oil.
Start by pulling for 3 to 5 minutes. You can work your way up to 20 minutes if you want. And swish slowly. If you’re getting a sore jaw, you’re probably pulling too vigorously.
And DO NOT SWALLOW the oil! (It has bacteria in it now.)
- Spit, rinse, and brush.
When you’re finished pulling, spit the oil into a garbage can (it can clog pipes). Rinse your mouth and brush your teeth after pulling (with a separate toothbrush than you use for daily cleaning).
It can also help freshen breath, which is probably one of the reasons it’s often suggested to pull first thing in the morning.³ (Not today, morning breath!)
What about the oil – is one better than the others?
From an oral health standpoint, coconut oil does seem to have some unique advantages:
- It contains a generous amount of lauric acid, which helps reduce plaque.⁴
- Pulling with coconut oil has been shown to be as effective as a prescription mouthwash for reducing the bacteria that causes tooth decay (streptococcus mutans).⁵
If you can’t use coconut oil, sesame seed oil or sunflower oil also works well. And olive oil has been proven to have antimicrobial and antioxidant properties.⁶
Oil pulling is generally safe, but if done improperly, there are a few rare downsides. If you were to accidentally inhale the oil into your lungs, there’s a small chance it could cause lipoid pneumonia.⁷ Other less serious side effects could include diarrhea or an upset stomach.
What We’re Still Learning
Can oil pulling really whiten teeth? And what about claims that it can reduce headaches, get rid of acne, lessen the appearance of cellulite (!), and minimize chronic inflammation?
You’ll find people who swear they’ve experienced these benefits from oil pulling, but so far, this is all anecdotal. There hasn’t been any scientific evidence that confirms this. Keep in mind, however, that studies on oil pulling are few and far between…
One of the most common oil pulling benefits that you’ll find online is that it helps remove toxins from your body. Let’s break this one down a bit:
First off, your liver and kidneys are responsible for clearing toxins from your body. While you can certainly do, eat, and/or drink things that support liver and kidney function, there is no one magic substance that is detoxifying.
That said, we do accumulate a lot of bacteria in our mouths.
The studies cited above do show that oil pulling reduces the amount of bacteria in saliva, so it logically follows that oil pulling might support detoxification by helping to eliminate bacteria that your body might otherwise have to handle in another way.
The Bottom Line
Oil pulling may improve your oral health (and your breath!). Beyond that, we don’t have concrete proof that it helps combat coffee stains, clear blemishes, or fend off the seasonal cold.
BUT given that it’s been around for 3000+ years, and still has a strong fan club that swears by the health and beauty benefits, it might be worth trying for yourself.
And, other than 3-5 minutes (which you can spend multitasking), you really have nothing to lose.
How do I get started?