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Oil Pulling: Does it really work?

The Claim

The practice of oil pulling has recently gained popularity in Western society. Many well-known health and wellness gurus have been discussing the benefits of oil pulling and I’m commonly asked by my clients about these claims.

It has been stated that oil pulling can cure over 30 systemic conditions and can heal cavities, improve oral hygiene, reduce plaque and tartar build-up, treat oral bacterial and fungal infections, reverse gum disease, reduce tooth sensitivity, treat bad breath, and whiten teeth. But what does science say? Can swishing with coconut, sesame, or sunflower oil for 10-20 minutes a day really do all it claims?

A Little Bit of History

While it may be a new concept for many of us, oil pulling has actually been practiced for thousands of years in India. Traditional Ayurvedic medicine used sesame or sunflower oil to pull toxins, bacteria, viruses, and fungus from the mouth and throat and detoxify the body.

How it Works

The theory behind oil pulling is that swishing and pulling a tablespoon of oil through your teeth attracts the fatty lipid layer of the bacteria binding and trapping it in the oil which is then spit out. It’s also said to leave a thin antibacterial layer on the teeth preventing new bacteria from adhering to the teeth and gums and thus preventing tooth decay and gum disease.


While many people who practice regular oil pulling swear by the results they experience, there have only been a handful of studies investigating the effects oil pulling has on gum health and halitosis (bad breath).

One study found that oil pulling with sesame oil for 40 days lowered the participants bacterial count, improved their gum health scores, and reduced plaque build-up. Another study of 60 adolescents with plaque induced gingivitis observed that daily oil pulling produced results comparable to the use of chlorhexidine, a pharmaceutical antimicrobial rinse that is currently the standard treatment prescribed for oral infections.

In 2011 and 2014 studies found that oil pulling had comparable results to chlorhexidine in reducing odor causing bacteria and treating bad breath. One benefit of oil pulling is that it does not cause staining of the teeth or tissue irritation which can occur with chlorhexidine use.

Although the science behind oil pulling is not concrete at this time and it's not supported by the American Dental Association, these studies show some promise. Oil pulling shouldn’t substitute brushing and flossing but when used in conjunction with methods recommended by your dental professional, oil pulling may supplement your oral health routine.

Want to Try It? Here’s What You Need to Know

  • Oil pulling does not substitute brushing, flossing, and regular professional dental care and should be added to supplement a good oral care routine.

  • There is no research supporting oil pulling ability to heal cavities. Tooth decay should be addressed by a dental professional.

  • It’s recommended that oil pulling be done daily and it was traditionally practiced first thing in the morning prior to eating, brushing and flossing.

  • Use cold-pressed, organic sesame or coconut oil.

  • Swish and pull one tablespoon of oil through your teeth for 10-20 minutes. It should turn milky white as it collects the bacteria and toxins from the mouth.

  • Do not swallow the oil.

  • Oil should always be spit into the garbage to avoid damage to plumbing.

  • Oil pulling is not recommended for kids or anyone who has difficulty swishing and spitting as they can aspirate the oil which can lead to lipoid pneumonia.

  • See your dentist and dental hygienist regularly to help keep your teeth and gums healthy.

Are you an avid oil puller? I’d love to hear how oil pulling has impacted your oral health.

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