What is Oil Pulling?
Oil pulling is a daily self-care practice that involves swishing oil around your mouth. It is often mistakenly called gaṇḍūṣa or kavalagraha. Gaṇḍūṣa and kavalagraha are ancient Ayurvedic techniques that involve swishing or holding various substances in the oral cavity, but these traditional practices are more complex than the oil pulling that we know today, so it is incorrect to claim they are the same thing. Even though modern oil pulling isn’t as ancient as many people believe, that does not mean the practice is without benefits.
Oil pulling has many benefits and is a worthwhile addition to your oral care regime. The practice of oil putting has gained popularity in recent years and it is often praised as a cure-all. Even though people have reported that oil pulling has treated a variety of health conditions, it’s important to have reasonable expectations of what the practice may do for you. The evidence for oil pulling treating hangovers, PMS, headaches, bronchitis, intestinal disorders, and many other conditions isn’t backed up by science and remains purely anecdotal. However, oil pulling has been shown to have significant benefits when it comes to improving oral health.
Benefits of Oil Pulling
Oil pulling cleans your entire mouth, not just the teeth. By swishing with oil you can loosen and clean debris out of crevices that may otherwise get missed by regular dental hygiene practices. This doesn’t mean that oil pulling can be used in lieu of brushing and flossing; it should be used to enhance your existing oral hygiene practice, not to replace it.
Here are some of the benefits you may get by including oil pulling in your daily oral care regime:
Reduces Bacteria in the Mouth
Swishing with coconut oil is shown to be just as effective in reducing counts of S. mutans as Chlorhexidine mouthwash. Oil pulling with sesame oil or sunflower oil is effective at reducing S. mutans in the saliva, but not quite as much as chlorhexidine mouthwash or oil pulling with coconut oil. Coconut oil reduces bacteria better than other oils because it contains lauric acid which has antimicrobial effects. Adding a pinch of an anti-microbial herb or a drop of essential oil to your oil pull will further help in reducing bacteria in the mouth.
Oil pulling is shown to control plaque levels in the mouth, but don’t expect to see a noticeable difference after oil pulling only once or twice. The reduction of plaque becomes significant after seven consecutive days of oil pulling. The longer one oil pulls the greater the reduction. After 30 days of oil pulling a 50% reduction in plaque and plaque-induced gingivitis has been observed.
Improves Your Breath
Since oil pulling decrease bacteria in the mouth and reduces plaque, the result is naturally better breath. Oil pulling is shown to be just as effective in reducing halitosis as chlorhexidine mouthwash.
Decreases Inflammation in the Mouth
In addition to reducing plaque, which causes toxins that irritate the gums and leads to gingivitis (an inflammation of the gums), oil pulling increase blood flow to the area which directly decreases inflammation in the local tissues. This is helpful for gingivitis, and also inflammation related to canker sores in the mouth.
Using coconut oil, which has anti-inflammatory properties, will help further decrease the inflammation in the mouth.
Leads to Firmer, Healthier Gums
The increase in blood flow that results from oil pulling will help carry more nutrients to the tissues, improving the health of the gums and other tissues in the mouth. Some people have even reported that oil pulling has reversed gum recession and stopped their gums from bleeding.
Strengthens the Jaw Muscles
Oil is a viscous substance so it takes more effort to swish oil through the mouth that it does water. Swishing oil through the mouth exercises muscles the of the face, particularly the jaw. Because oil pulling strengthens the jaw, this may explain why some people notice a reduction in TMJ symptoms when they practice oil pulling on a regular basis.
Helps Remove Toxins
Some people claim that oil pulling “pulls toxins” out of the mouth. It doesn’t directly pull toxins out, but it does increase the efficacy of waste removal in the mouth because it increases blood flow to the tissues of the mouth. Oil pulling also stimulates secretions from the nose and mouth and helps dislodge excess mucous from the sinuses.
Oil pulling will reduce some toxins, but indirectly; bacteria in the mouth produces toxins, so by decreasing the number of bacteria in the mouth, the number of toxins produced by these bacteria will also decrease.
May Reduce Tooth Pain and Sensitivity
Oil pulling may help ease tooth pain reduce tooth sensitivity. I don’t know of any studies that explore this, but there are so many cases of tooth pain going away with oil pulling, that it’s hard to ignore the relationship. Since oil pulling leads to healthier gums and increases general oral health, it would resolve pain by addressing the root cause of that pain if it’s related to weak gums, inflammation, or plaque build up. Oil pulling itself does not have any direct analgesic effects.
Gives You Better Skin?
It can be difficult to see a relationship between oil pulling and healthy skin, but many people claim that oil pulling has lead to a decrease in dry skin, eczema, and acne. I don’t want to write off this possibility because such improvements could be due to absorption of essential fatty acids. We start to break down fats in the mouth with the lingual lipase that is present in saliva. If someone is not getting enough essential fatty acids through their diet, then absorbing some EFA’s in the mouth could benefit them.
We absorb certain substances in our mouth quite rapidly, especially under the tongue. This is why it’s recommended to take some vitamins and medications sublingually. When we absorb substances sublingually they bypass the digestive system and go directly into the bloodstream. I’d be curious to see how much essential fatty acids in the oil get absorbed in the mouth and if it is significant enough to account for improvements in skin health and complexion.
Which Oil Should You Use?
Choose a high-quality oil, preferably organic. Commonly used oils are coconut oil, sesame, sunflower, olive, and rice bran oil. Some oils are more palatable than others, so choose one that suits your taste.
Alternatively, you can add a pinch of turmeric to the oil for added anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory benefits. My teeth feel extra clean when I add a bit of turmeric.
You can also add a drop of an essential oil; peppermint will make your mouth feel super fresh, tea tree will help kill microbes, and frankincense will calm inflammation.
How to Oil Pull
- Take about 1 tsp of oil in your mouth. It is often suggested to use 1 Tbsp, but this is usually too much oil for most people.
- Swish the oil around your mouth, pulling it through your teeth as you swish. You don’t have to swish so vigorously that your cheeks get tired, but enough to keep the oil moving through your mouth. Swish for 3-10 minutes.
- When you are finished, spit the oil into a garbage can (spitting it into the sink will eventually clog your pipes).
- Rinse your mouth with warm water and brush your teeth as usual.
You can do your oil pulling while you are in the shower, cooking breakfast, or checking your email. It doesn’t have to add any extra time to your morning routine.
It is best to do your oil pulling first thing in the morning, after tongue scraping is the most common time, you can also oil pull again in the evening.
It is recommended to oil pull on an empty stomach. This is only because some people may experience nausea with the oil pulling, however, it’s not a very common side effect, so don’t let that deter you.
It’s usually recommended to swish the oil for a full 20 minutes, while this isn’t necessary there isn’t harm in doing so, as long as you are careful not to accidentally inhale the oil. Inhaling the oil may cause a serious problem in your lungs called lipoid pneumonia. Although cases of it are quite rare, it’s good to be aware.
There are no other risks to oil pulling, some people have claimed that oil pulling has loosened their fillings, but it will only do so if the fillings are already unstable.
Should You Try Oil Pulling?
Yes! The only way to see what oil pulling can do for you is to try it for yourself. I have gone through periods where I oil pulled daily and times when I didn’t do it at all. When I’ve seen the dentist during periods of regular oil pulling, they have said that my teeth were free of any plaque build-up and my gums were healthy and firm. This hasn’t been the case when I’ve gone to the dentist after a period of not practicing oil pulling. During those visits, my gums were more sensitive and had signs of inflammation and there was visible plaque that had to be removed. Swishing a teaspoon of oil around my mouth each morning is certainly worth it for me.
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