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Does Oil Pulling Really Work?

Updated on September 3, 2015

Everyone on the Internet seems to be asking if oil pulling really works. It's a topic that seems to lay low for a while and then spring up again with renewed intensity and fervor.

I've seen explanations and opinions on oil pulling range from somewhat correct to completely misinformed. As a dental health professional I thought I should step in and help elucidate the masses.

Unfortunately it seems that most oil pulling articles are based on conjecture and opinion rather than science and evidence. Everyone wants to add their two cents to the debate, and in the end what happens is that nobody knows if it really works or not.

There is peer-reviewed evidence to back up the fact that oil pulling is as effective at decreasing the bacterial load in the mouth as some of the more common conventional methods. For example, oil pulling has been proven as effective as chlorhexidine gluconate, a commonly-prescribed mouth rinse, at decreasing oral bacteria.

To understand how oil pulling works, first we'll need some background as to what it actually is in the first place.


What Is Oil Pulling, Anyway?

Oil pulling is an ancient Ayurvedic technique of swishing oil around in the mouth to remove bacteria from the oral cavity. It's been practiced for thousands of years in India and elsewhere, but only recently has it begun to be scientifically studied and explained.

The basic goal of all oral hygiene is to decrease the bacterial load in the mouth; in other words, to remove bacteria from the mouth. Bacteria in the oral cavity cause all sorts of dental issues like gum disease (gingivitis & periodontitis), necrotizing oral diseases, cavities, tooth loss, and bone loss.

Oral bacteria play a part in the development of oral cancer as well, in addition to causing systemic inflammation which contributes to the development of diabetes, heart disease, and other inflammatory diseases.

Goal: we want to decrease the bacteria in our mouths. This is why we brush and floss every day, and why your dental hygienist recommends using mouthwash. Oil pulling is used for exactly the same purpose.

Oil pulling decreases the bacterial load in the mouth so that our teeth and tissues can begin to heal and flourish.


How Exactly Does Oil Pulling Work?

Almost everything that happens in the body is based on ionic interactions. You can basically think of ions as particles that carry a charge (+ / -) sort of like the terminals on a battery. The interactions of these charged particles are responsible for all sorts of amazing things in the body, like the sodium-potassium pump, or the conduction of sensory input through nerve fibers.

Just like the rest of the body, the mouth and teeth are influenced by ionic interactions. A lot of the science behind dentistry lies in the manipulation of ions to improve oral health. For example, fluoride ions adhere to the tooth based on ionic interactions. This is also the means by which oil absorbs bacteria in the mouth.

Remember: opposite charges attract each other, while like charges repel each other.

  • Oil is negatively charged
  • Bacteria are negatively charged
  • Salivary proteins are positively charged
  • Teeth have a net negative charge

Did You Already Know How Oil Pulling Works?

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The basic mechanics of how the teeth work should be explained here. As soon as you brush or floss the teeth, they instantly begin attracting salivary proteins again (a key ingredient of oral plaque.) As soon as the proteins adhere to the teeth, oral bacteria adhere to the proteins ionically.

The bacteria and proteins combine to form a matrix where they are no longer separated, but form a complete substance known as plaque. The introduction of negatively charged oil dislodges the salivary protein layer on the teeth, which is encapsulating the oral bacteria. Through vigorous swishing of this oil, the oil-plaque mixture eventually emulsifies. At this point the mixture is spit out, along with all of the oral bacteria that it has collected.

Oil pulling leaves the mouth feeling thoroughly cleaned, helps the tissues heal, freshens the breath, helps decrease the likelihood of getting cavities, and also whitens the teeth ionically.


Is Oil Pulling Effective?

As with any oral hygiene measures, removing the source of inflammation and decay is the end goal.

Oil pulling is especially effective at doing this because of the properties described above, in addition to the fact that it's fluid and therefore fits between the teeth and flows through the entire mouth.

I have personally seen patients before and after they started oil pulling, and it makes a huge difference in the health of their oral cavity.

I oil pull as well, so can speak from experience that this method really works, even if you have great oral hygiene to begin with.

Nature's Way Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil, 32 Ounce
Nature's Way Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil, 32 Ounce

This organic coconut oil is great for oil pulling, cooking, and baking.

  • Inflamed, red, and bleeding gums become pink and healthy again. Tissues are allowed to breathe again, and the mouth quickly recovers from previous bacteria-related injuries and traumas.

That said, there are pros and cons to oil pulling. The pros are that it effectively reduces the bacterial load in the mouth, whitens teeth, and cures halitosis (bad breath.)

The cons are that it takes about 20 minutes per session, it's kind of tiring, and realistically there are easier methods out there that do the same thing better and more easily (swishing with activated coconut charcoal, for example.)

Oil pulling is very effective, but is not for everyone. Try it for a week and see if it's right for you.


How Do You Oil Pull?

  • Put a teaspoon of organic coconut oil or sesame oil into your mouth
  • Swish continuously for about 20 minutes
  • Never swallow the oil-plaque mixture
  • If your mouth becomes too full, spit out half of what's in your mouth and keep swishing
  • After 20 minutes, spit the emulsified mixture into the trash. If you want to spit it down the drain, mix it with dish liquid first so it doesn't clog your drain
  • Rinse with warm water a few times to remove any remaining bacteria or oil from the mouth
  • Brush your teeth as you usually would
  • For the best results, oil pull daily

Read The Full Article

This hub has been shortened and modified for convenience and context. A full version of the article I wrote on this subject is available. For a more comprehensive version and for more information on this topic, including cited articles, click here.

You should see positive results from oil pulling within the first week of daily use. However, after just one use you'll notice a huge difference in how your mouth feels.

Copyright © 2015 Faceless39. All rights reserved.


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    • newbizmau profile image

      Guided Abundance 20 months ago from Mobile, AL

      I've heard of Oil pulling but I misunderstood what it was for. I thought it was for purifying toxins from the body through the mouth. I didn't know it was for oral health.

    • Faceless39 profile image

      Faceless39 20 months ago from The North Woods, USA

      Oral health is completely connected to the health of the entire body. By removing inflammation-causing bacteria and their toxic byproducts from the mouth, it helps resolve inflammation in the whole body. I hope that makes sense. Thanks for reading and for the comment, Newbizmau!

    • Sallie Mullinger profile image

      Sallie Mullinger 20 months ago from Ohio

      Ive been pulling for over a year now. I have whiter teeth, less bad breath and believe this or not, a cavity that I knew I had a year ago, seem to actually be gone. I have also noticed a decrease in stomach/digestive issues which I believe is due to the fact that less bacteria are finding their way into my gut. Im by no means a scientist or a medical doctor. I only know my own body and Im a strong proponent of oil pulling. The jar shown in the above photograph is the type of coconut oil I use.

    • Faceless39 profile image

      Faceless39 20 months ago from The North Woods, USA

      Thanks for your interesting comment, Sallie. Oral bacteria truly make a huge impact on a person's health, and I think your oil pulling experience has really proven that for you. I have yet to find someone tell me they haven't benefited from the practice. Great stuff, thanks!

    • ArianaLove profile image

      ArianaLove 20 months ago

      Newbizmau - it can be used for that as well! I do oil pulling when I have a sinus infection. Since I started to do that, my sinuses clear up much faster.

    • Faceless39 profile image

      Faceless39 20 months ago from The North Woods, USA

      Hi Ariana, thanks for reading! Oil pulling pulls bacteria from the oral cavity, which includes the tonsils, nasopharynx, and even the oropharynx depending on how you swish. I can see how your sinus issues could be alleviated by decreasing the bacterial load in these areas. Thanks for your comment!

    • Valene profile image

      Valene 7 months ago from Missouri

      Oh wow, I've got to do it for the sinus issues, then! I've tried oil pulling once or twice, but not with any regularity. Faceless39, is your profile pic a New England Aster, by any chance?

    • jo miller profile image

      jo miller 5 months ago from Tennessee

      Very thorough article. I did check out your sources. Well done.

      I tried oil pulling for a while. While I was doing it, my hygienist commented on how good my dental hygiene was even though I didn't mentioned to her what I was doing. Guess I'll have to get back to oil pulling again.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 3 weeks ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Excellent! Thank you so much. I have read some and heard some about "oil pulling" in the past. However, I greatly appreciate you sharing the science with us. It is always most useful to know the answers to How and Why!

      One thing that made me curious is the fact that throughout my life and history with Dentists, oral hygiene and care, never once did a dentist nor hygienist recommend oil pulling. I wonder if you have an opinion as to why this is? Paula

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