Oil Pulling: Benefits, Misconceptions, and How to Do It

Oil Pulling: Benefits, Misconceptions, and How to Do It
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Table of Contents

  1. What Is Oil Pulling?
  2. Where Did It Originate
  3. Benefits
  4. Evidence in Support
  5. Side Effects
  6. Myths
  7. How to Oil Pull
  8. References
Oil pulling is an alternative do-it-yourself dental practice of rinsing and swishing oils in your mouth to get rid of unwanted bacteria, obtain whiter teeth and gain other health benefits. It dates to ancient Indian and Ayurvedic cultures who used it to clean the mouth and purify the body.
Provided it's done properly, the practice can be a harmless and somewhat effective way of augmenting oral health.
Although it has its followers and believers, oil pulling’s effectiveness has yet to be documented to the satisfaction of most scientists and researchers, and many believe it needs much more study before it is embraced by the professional dental community.

What Is Oil Pulling?

Oil pulling is really oil mouth-washing. Someone who practices it swishes an edible oil, often coconut oil, around in the mouth for a little while and then spits out, much like rinsing with a mouthwash.

Proponents say the oil doesn't just clean the mouth, gums and teeth but also contributes to an increase in bodily health overall, as it is said to extract varying toxins from the body.

At least, that's the theory. But there are many theories about this ancient practice. Citing a lack of consensus regarding cavity reduction, some dentists flatly reject this oral health alternative.

Where Does Oil Pulling Originate?

The practices involved in what today is called oil pulling dates back thousands of years. Evidence suggests ancient Indian and Ayurvedic practices used oil pulling techniques as a means of purification.

The oil, which can absorb certain bacteria, removes toxins from mouth.

Potential Benefits of an Effective Oil Pulling Regimen

Researchers in a 2020 study point out that oil pulling may well have notable beneficial effects on the improvement of both oral health and dental hygiene. For many, it's a fine means of achieving oral health.

The mouth is home to nearly 700 types of bacteria, about you can expect to find about half of them at any point in time. Oil pulling can kill unwanted bacteria in the mouth, including bacteria:

  • Partially responsible for halitosis, or chronic bad breath
  • That contribute to plaque buildup
  • That contribute to gum disease and other issues leading to inflamed gums

Another appeal of oil pulling is its ease and affordability:

  • Oils used in the practice, including coconut oil, are not overly expensive.
  • No alcoholic washes or rinses (such as alcohol-based mouthwash) are needed.
  • And adding oil pulling to a regular morning routine isn't hard.

Evidence in Support of Oil Pulling

There's a debate about whether oil pulling does what practitioners say it does. Researchers at the Department of Oral Medicine and Radiology at Yenepoya Dental Collage and Hospital in India compiled results from multiple oil-pulling studies and declared that that this process improves oral hygiene with proper use.

Other researchers reported that the practice has "promising benefits" but cautions that it does not replace conventional dental therapeutic solutions such as annual checkups, regular teeth cleanings, fillings for cavities and other smart dental care routines.

While simultaneously indicating this procedure is worth considering as an alternative to mouthwash or other oral health measures that may include certain undesirable chemicals, the scientists also stressed that more research is necessary.

Side Effects

It’s possible that you may swallow some oil during the pulling process. This won't harm you long-term, but it's not advisable because of the bacteria that oil is being used to extract.

If you do swallow the oil, you are likely to experience a few runny bowel movements. This has more to do with the oil than the bacteria, although the increase in bacteria involved in the process can be part of the problem.

A bigger danger is accidentally inhaling oil. Pneumonia comes from liquid in the lungs, and if you get oil there, you're at risk for lipid pneumonia.

The big side effect to watch out for is emphasis reorganization. When you're using this technique, you may be tempted to forego other teeth cleaning methods, such as flossing. It's a “task overload” issue.

Common Myths and Misconceptions

There is a myth that oil pulling doesn't work because the mucous membrane lining in the mouth doesn't allow harmful toxins to pass through.

Another myth is that oil pulling works only because of a placebo effect.

Some scientists believe oil pulling needs more research and study before they can make claims of beneficial effects. “As is true for many folk remedies, oil pulling has insufficient peer-reviewed studies to support its use for oral conditions,” according to one 2017 study.

Other researchers are not as definitive, saying that oil pulling provides “clear indications” of saponification, which is the conversion of fat, oil or lipid into soap and alcohol. In other words, the oils in the mouth do clean at some level.

How You Can Oil Pull

It's simple: using coconut, sesame seed, or olive oil, fill up a tablespoon, swish it around for 15 or 20 minutes in your mouth, and spit it out when you're done. Be sure not to swallow any. Rinse your mouth when finished.


The effect of oil pulling with coconut oil to improve dental hygiene and oral health: A systematic review. (August 2020). Heliyon.

Oil pulling for maintaining oral hygiene – A Review. (January 2017). Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine.

Tooth brushing, oil pulling and tissue regeneration: A review of holistic approaches to oral health. (April-June 2011). Journal of Ayuveda and Integrative Medicine.

Oil Pulling for Better Oral Health – Myth or Reality? (August 2018). Journal of Complementary Medicine and Alternative Healthcare.

Roots of Healthy Living. (October 2020). Kerala Ayurveda.

Mechanism of oil-pulling-therapy – in vitro study. (February 2011). Indian Journal of Dental Research.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.