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What is Oil Pulling for Oral Health (and How to Do It)

Oil pulling is simply swishing oil around in your mouth. Known as “kavala,” this ancient Indian technique is known for its oral benefits as well as its ability to pull toxins from the body to cure a range of ailments.

Sound strange? It kind of is! But it also has some amazing benefits!

Oil pulling has been around for centuries and its proponents claim that it is good for oral health and can also cure about 30 systemic diseases from diabetes to heart disease.

Let me break down what I believe it can and cannot do. You can decide for yourself if you think this is something that you want to add to your routine! (and I bet you choose to do it!)


History of Oil Pulling

Throughout ancient history, people took care of their teeth without using a toothbrush. In fact, toothbrushes as we know them just came into existence in the 1930’s when nylon was invented!

While it is hard to imagine life without our current oral health aisle complete with toothbrushes, toothpastes and floss, people who lived before us survived without these devices and our current advice to “brush twice daily for 2 minutes each time.” However, archeological evidence suggests that many peoples had great teeth throughout their lives-even into old age!

Why didn’t their teeth rot?

One reason was that other cultures with good oral health ate a whole food diet free from processed foods, sugars or grains that contained phytic acid which destroys teeth enamel. Another reason is that they had different oral health practices than we do! Many cultures used “chew sticks” to clean their teeth. Cultures identified soft woods native to their areas and chewed on them for oral health.

Other cultures practiced oil pulling. In India, the practice of oil pulling is over 3,000 years old. This practice is part of Ayurvedic medicine which treats the whole body. In India, sesame or sunflower oil traditionally is used, but in Western countries when we have adopted this practice we have primarily chosen coconut oil for its antibacterial properties.

Typically, oil pulling is done first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. Ayurvedic medicine recommends doing this for 20 minutes. (1)

As I’ve said in other posts, anything that has been used for centuries certainly piques my interest because if it didn’t work, it wouldn’t be passed down!


What are the Benefits of Oil Pulling?

Primarily, oil pulling is good for oral health!

Only a handful of studies have been done on oil pulling and they all focus on oral health. Let’s take a look at what oil pulling is known to do.

Reduces Bacteria In the Mouth

Oil pulling reduces the bacteria that are in your mouth. One study showed that oil pulling reduced the main cavity-causing bacteria, Streptococcus Mutans, in plaque on teeth after just two weeks.  This was a small study specifically looking at sesame oil since that is what is primarily used in India, but it has encouraging results! (2)

Reduces Bad breath

Bad breath is often caused by wastes from bacteria found in the mouth.

If you reduce the bacteria in the mouth, it makes sense that bad breath would get better!

One small study showed oil pulling was just as effective as chlorhexidine mouthwash at fighting bad breath! (3)

Personally, I’ve found that oil pulling reduces bad breath both from bacteria and because the act of oil pulling frees up congestion in my nose that has built up over night. It also seems to help with post-nasal drip for a few hours. Of course, it doesn’t address the issues that cause my congestion and post-nasal drip (allergies), so it isn’t a cure but it does provide some relief early in the morning when my symptoms are at their worst.

Reduces Plaque and Heals Gingivitis

Here’s a little dental terms 101…

Dental plaque is a sticky, clear film that forms on teeth and between teeth, both above and below the gum line. Plaque should be removed regularly because it can cause dental problems.  If left alone, it can cause tarter and cavities.

Gingivitis is the inflammation of gums, primarily due to plaque.

Oil pulling is effective at controlling both of these! Here is another study showing that oil pulling works. (4)

My own personal experience is that oil pulling…

  • Kills bad breath
  • Removes plaque and heals gingivitis
  • Heals bleeding gums
  • Whitens teeth
  • Soothes throat dryness
  • Heals cracked lips
  • Strengthens jaw and facial muscles
  • Relieves congestion and post-nasal drip

Some people have said that they don’t like oil pulling. To me, it feels a lot like swishing water in your mouth for 20 minutes. My mouth got a little tired at first, but now that I have built up muscles, it is no problem to do it for a full 20 mins. In fact, my teeth are noticeably whiter! It didn’t happen over night, but with continued use my teeth are getting whiter and whiter! (And no, I didn’t stop drinking coffee 😉 )


What Oil Pulling Might Do…

Aside from oral health, many people claim that oil pulling can affect the body systemically. A quick search of the web and you can find lots of anecdotal evidence that oil pulling cures a range of illnesses from heart disease to asthma and acne.

Indeed, “Ayurveda advises oil gargling to purify the entire system; as it holds that each section of the tongue is connected to different organ such as to the kidneys, lungs, liver, heart, small intestines, stomach, colon, and spine, similarly to reflexology and TCM.” (1)

There just isn’t any research out there to back any of these claims. Not even any Indian studies.

Here’s the thing…I’ve seen the power of placebo first hand. In one research study I was involved in there was a placebo phase as the first part of the study. We knew that we were giving patients placebo, but we didn’t tell them. At the end of that phase, if the patient reported that they had improved symptoms they were removed from the trial because they were considered “placebo sensitive”. Two of the patients in the study were ABSOLUTELY CONVINCED that the placebo pills cured them. They were literally in tears when we told them that they had to stop the study and that they couldn’t keep the pills. They wouldn’t believe us that it was placebo and said that they had tried everything and this was the only thing that had helped them!

So is oil pulling placebo effect? I’m certainly not saying that it is, but when there is lots of anecdotal evidence that something is a panacea for all diseases, I begin to question it!

On the other hand, several studies show that gum disease and heart disease have a link, so it seems very possible that oil in the mouth could have an effect on other parts of the body!

Also, several other studies also strongly suggest a link between the bacteria in your mouth and other serious diseases. Streptococcus mutans is known to cause diseases such as pneumonia, meningitis and sinusitis to name a few. Bacteria from the gums can travel to the heart causing endocarditis, so can oil pulling work the same way?

Certainly, more studies should be done before we consider oil pulling able to cure any particular ailment…


But Is It Safe?

As long as you are using a good oil (food grade), and spitting it out, then oil pulling certainly won’t hurt! It is not an alternative to brushing and flossing. After all, we know that brushing manually removes plaque and bacteria and even ancient Indian medicine recommends doing oil pulling and using chew sticks.


How to Oil Pull

    1. Choose an Oil-Sesame or Coconut. While sesame oil has traditionally been used in India, and is the focus of all the studies referenced, coconut oil is a great option because is contains lauric acid which has powerful antibacterial effects. Remember, whatever oil you choose should be food-grade. (where to buy sesame oil) (where to buy coconut oil)
    2. On an empty stomach, put 1 tablespoon of oil in your mouth. If this seems like a lot, start with a smaller amount and build up to it. Coconut oil is solid below 74 degrees so if it starts out solid, it will rapidly turn to liquid oil in your mouth.
    3. Swish the oil around in your mouth and in-between your teeth. Traditionally, this has been done for 20 minutes, however, the studies that I cited asked participants to do it for 10-15 minutes and they still saw results. I don’t worry too much if I don’t make it 20 minutes.
    4. Spit the oil in the trash. The oil is filled with bacteria and viruses after oil pulling, so you don’t want to swallow it! Also, spitting it down the drain could cause a clog. If you need help with a clogged drain, you can check out my post on natural ways to unclog your drain 😉
    5. After oil pulling, brush your teeth as you normally would. Oil pulling does not replace brushing your teeth. While oil pulling can remove bacteria, you still need a manual method to remove tarter and stuck on food. Remember, Ayurvedic medicine recommends chew sticks in the morning and after every meal!

How have you cared for your teeth naturally? Ever tried oil pulling? Share below…






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