DIY

I Tried Oil Pulling To Naturally Improve My Dental Health — Here Are All The Pros And Cons

by Kim Wong-Shing
Kim Wong-Shing is a staff writer at LittleThings. Her work spans beauty, wellness, pop culture, identity, food, and other topics. She is a contributing writer at NaturallyCurly, and her work has also appeared in HelloGiggles, Lifehacker, Wear Your Voice Magazine, and other outlets. She grew up in Philadelphia, attended Brown University, and is now based in New Orleans.

If you’ve never heard of oil pulling, let me quickly catch you up to speed. Oil pulling is when you pour a tablespoon of plain coconut oil into your mouth and swish it around for several minutes, then spit it out.

If you’re now thinking, “Gross!” or “Why on earth would anybody do that?” the answer is: for dental health. And the grossness level is debatable, as I discovered when I finally tried oil pulling for myself for two weeks.

I used oil pulling every day for two entire weeks, (almost) every morning. I had high expectations, because people who use oil pulling are generally really into it.

There are good reasons for that. Coconut oil reduces the amount of harmful bacteria in the mouth; it “pulls” the bacteria out and carries them away.

The technique has been used for countless years as part of Ayurvedic medicine, the traditional healing system of India. In recent years, oil pulling has become popular in the West, too, which has led scientists to study whether or not it actually works.

And the results are in: Science agrees that oil pulling is effective. Studies show that people who use coconut oil have fewer of the bacteria that cause bad breath, gum disease, and tooth decay. Some research says that oil pulling is just as effective as mouthwash! Anecdotally, some proponents say that it’s also a natural way to whiten your teeth. Seriously, is there anything coconut oil can’t do?!

I’m not one to argue with science or centuries of ancient healing techniques, and so I decided to give oil pulling a try.

With so many reasons to try oil pulling, you might assume that it’s already a staple in my routine. I do, after all, have coconut oil in my room at all times, and I use it for a million other things.

But until now, I’d never successfully tried oil pulling for longer than approximately five seconds. That’s because, in the past, the coconut oil tasted disgusting and felt ridiculous in my mouth.

This time, though, I figured out the trick to prevent that weird, gross mouth feeling. As a result, the oil pulling was mostly a success!

Choosing an Oil for Oil Pulling

Choosing an Oil for Oil Pulling
https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/oil-pulling-coconut-oil#section4

Oil pulling generally refers to swishing with coconut oil, but fun fact: You can use a variety of different oils. That doesn’t, however, mean that you should start swishing with whatever oil you have lying around the house.

You should use one of the few oils that are known to be useful for dental health. The two most popular (and scientifically proven) are coconut oil and sesame oil. Sunflower oil is another.

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Also, you should use an oil without any additives — no alcohol, preservatives, or any other ingredients that aren’t oil.

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Personally, I decided to use a fancy-shmancy organic, unrefined virgin coconut oil from Dr. Bronner’s. It’s designed for cooking, which is partially how I know that it’s safe to put in my mouth. (Though, importantly, you will not actually be ingesting this oil.)

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Once you have your oil of choice, you can move on to the actual method.

Oil Pulling 101: How to Do It

Oil Pulling 101: How to Do It
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Oil pulling is incredibly simple. That said, you do need to do it correctly to reap any of the benefits.

There are four simple steps:

  1. Pour a tablespoon of the oil of your choice into your mouth.
  2. Swish it around, just like mouthwash, for some amount of time. One source says 15 to 20 minutes, while another says 2 to 15 minutes. I struck a balance between the two and swished for 15 minutes.
  3. Spit out the oil into the trash (not the sink or the toilet, because clogged pipes and fatbergs). Do not swallow the oil at any point. I repeat: Do not swallow the oil!
  4. Rinse your mouth with water and/or brush your teeth as normal. This step is crucial, because otherwise all of the extracted bacteria will just continue to hang out in your mouth.

My Oil Pulling Experiment

My Oil Pulling Experiment
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I used oil pulling for two weeks in hopes that it would improve my overall dental health, namely any bad breath or gum problems that might crop up. I used it in place of mouthwash, which I normally use once a day or so.

Before this experiment, I’d tried oil pulling a couple other times. Each time, I stopped after the first attempt. I hated it. The oil felt like cold, lumpy mashed potatoes made of oil. Blech.

But after chatting with my sister, who swears by oil pulling, I realized what I was doing wrong: I was using solid coconut oil.

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Coconut oil is a saturated fat, so it solidifies at room temperature. Specifically, it solidifies when it’s below 76 degrees F. When it’s warmer than that, it turns into a liquid.

In the past, I always used solid coconut oil for oil pulling, because that’s what was in the jar at the time. Solid coconut oil tastes and feels like a disgusting mish-mash (at least initially, before it melts in your mouth).

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Liquid coconut oil, though? It just tastes like coconut. Or like oil. Or like both. It’s not bad! Folks, it is NOT BAD.

So, fortunately, the solution here is simple. If your coconut oil is solid, just dispense some of the oil into a separate container, then heat it up quickly before you use it. You can do this by dunking the container into hot water. It takes only a couple minutes, and that container can become your special “coconut oil for oil pulling” container.

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In my case, the temperature in my room must be hovering riiight around 76 degrees these days, because my coconut oil was partially liquid and partially not.

Wary of the disgusting mish-mash, I poured out the liquid part of the oil into the jar’s lid.

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And I got a tablespoon’s worth of oil from there.

Then I swished for 15 minutes.

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Then I spat it out into the trash, and I brushed my teeth as normal.

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I did this (almost) every morning while following my normal routine — brushing twice daily and flossing every day (except when I forgot but please don’t yell at me dentists).

Over the next two weeks, I kept an eye on my dental health, teeth whiteness, and general feeling of cleanliness. Terrible dental health runs in my genes, so I’m always very aware of these things. If the oil pulling didn’t work as well as mouthwash, I knew I’d notice within a couple days.

The Results: Pros

The Results: Pros
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It turns out that there are a lot of pros to oil pulling!

It’s a very simple and straightforward method, first of all. After just one time, you’ll get the hang of it.

With liquid coconut oil, there really is no grossness. Yes, it tastes like coconut, and yes, it tastes like oil. But mostly, after a couple seconds in your mouth, it tastes like… nothing. Your own spit.

And my dental health? (*drum roll*) It was great! My teeth and gums felt healthy and clean. Oil pulling is about as effective as mouthwash for me, except that when I use coconut oil, I feel ~at one with the Earth.~ Mouthwash has a bunch of synthetic stuff in it, whereas coconut oil is as natural as it gets.

If that appeals to you, I definitely recommend oil pulling as a holistic, natural remedy that’s also endorsed by science.

The Results: Cons

The Results: Cons
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I have only one major gripe with oil pulling, and that is the time investment. Fifteen minutes doesn’t sound like a lot, but in comparison to mouthwash, oil pulling takes forever. I never realized how often I use my mouth until it became unavailable to me for a quarter of an hour.

On certain days, I just couldn’t maintain enough patience to keep the oil in my mouth for 15 minutes. I had stuff to vocally complain about! Cheetos to eat! In all honesty, I skipped oil pulling altogether on some days because I just “couldn’t find the time.” (I know. I’m ridiculous.)

Also, my teeth didn’t look any whiter. This is just a theory, but I think oil pulling will work for teeth whitening if you drink a lot of coffee or tea or other things that noticeably change the color of your teeth daily. I don’t drink any of that, so it did nothing for me.

Final Thoughts

If you care about your teeth, enjoy feeling one with nature, and are very patient, give oil pulling a try. It really works.

Me personally? I am far more impatient than I ever realized. I’ll probably go back to mouthwash, because it takes only 30 seconds.