What is oil pulling?
Oil pulling is the act of swishing oil in your mouth for 10-20 minutes, ‘pulling’ it through and around your teeth. It’s been part of Ayurveda for around 3,000 years and was a means of strengthening teeth and maintaining good oral health long before toothpaste was invented. Oil pulling gets rid of bad bacteria build-up in the mouth, leaving more room for good bacteria to flourish, and thereby positively impacting the gums, breath and potential cavities. It’s also widely reported that the practice can support the overall health of the body, not just the mouth.
Tell me more good stuff.
The most superficial benefit of oil-pulling – and the one that seems to incentivise many people to do it in the first place – is teeth whitening. In years of research, I’ve found that almost every anecdotal review of consistent oil pulling for at least a month has mentioned teeth whitening as the first, most noticeable result.
There are tiny areas and crevices around the teeth that brushing and flossing will simply not reach. Decay can take place in these areas but oil can get to them easily. Also, bacteria are the reason for bad breath and the formation of cavities. The membranes on these bacteria are fat-soluble and will therefore break down with the pulling of oils by a process of saponification.
Importantly, the most current scientific research shows links between oral health and heart health. There seems to be a clear connection in many cases between heart disease and oral issues such as gum disease. And, according to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular conditions like clogged arteries and strokes are related to inflammation caused by oral bacteria. How is this, exactly? Bad bacteria and other germs are spread from the mouth to different parts of the body via the bloodstream. If there are any areas around the heart that are even mildly damaged (according to the Mayo Clinic, clinical practice for physicians and scientists), the bacteria can attach themselves to them and cause inflammation. This inflammation may in turn cause infections or more serious illnesses. The impact of this information on research into heart health has the potential to be tremendous.
Dental practitioner Dr. Jessica T. Emery says that bacteria enter the bloodstream during dental treatments; a risky thing for patients who are immunocompromised and therefore require pre-medication before dental treatment. If oil pulling helps reduce the amount of risky bacteria, it should not be dismissed with skepticism simply because science has chosen not to look further into an Ayurvedic tradition. “When there is clear evidence that many diseases and conditions are influenced by the mouth’s ecology and bacteria, why hasn’t oil pulling been encouraged by dental professionals as a supplement therapy?” she asks. “We are in the business of ‘preventing’ oral health problems, right? Not just fixing them? I think it’s a subject that merits further discussion among dental professionals.
So, how do you do it?
- Select an oil. I believe raw/cold pressed, virgin coconut oil is the best option, especially as it tastes nicer than any other oil! It has strong antioxidant properties thanks to Vitamin E and the lauric acid makes it anti-bacterial and anti-fungal.
- Only oil pull in the mornings on a completely empty stomach, preferably before even drinking water.
- Begin with a teaspoon and work your way up to a tablespoon over time if it’s comfortable to do so. The oil liquefies as you pull it, making your mouth more full, so I’ve personally not increased to more than a heaped teaspoon.
- Swish the oil around your mouth as if it were mouthwash but far less vigorously. You don’t want to get jaw ache and need to stop. Think: consistent and comfortable.
- After 15 minutes (give or take five minutes), spit the oil out into a bin. Don’t spit it into the sink as oil may cause pipe blockages when it solidifies; and for the love of God, NEVER, EVER swallow it! All the toxins you’ve just removed with so much effort will go straight back into your body.
- Rinse your mouth with warm water. A little pinch of mineral-rich, pure sea salt or pink Himalayan salt in the water would be even better but this completely optional. Then brush your teeth as normal.
What did oil pulling do for me?
I’ve read many blog posts and articles that dismiss any benefit to oil pulling. However, not a single one has been written by someone who did it for longer than a week – if at all! Not coincidentally, I’ve found only positive reviews from those who incorporate this practice into their lifestyle long-term. I started oil pulling many years ago but never stuck to it consistently; hence I’d never written about it because it wasn’t a real practice. Having been doing oil pulling now for 4 or 5 days a week for an entire year, and knowing that I don’t intend to stop doing it, I feel it’s part of my lifestyle enough to have learned some valuable things from experience.
- Tooth sensitivity has disappeared.
- My teeth didn’t get any whiter.
I was looking forward to having teeth as white as celebrities’ fake veneers but the colour of my teeth hasn’t changed at all! However, perhaps I didn’t get this result because my teeth were already light enough from years of chemical bleaching prior to embarking on a natural lifestyle. It certainly seems to be the case that most people do see lightening of their teeth.
- Bleeding gums have become a thing of the past.
- Oil pulling stopped a receding gum line and the wear on my enamel has improved tenfold. My teeth feel so clean after oil pulling that there’s no need to brush for as long as I used to or with as much pressure.
- Any morning headaches disappear immediately after oil pulling. Many people cite it as a hangover cure!
- Morning breath is practically non-existent (but only if you eat healthily day to day.) Saying that, with a mouth so clean and with less bad bacteria, eating anything processed or unhealthy can impact your breath more obviously and immediately than it would have done before. So there are both positives and negatives to the breath issue.
- Flossing became unnecessary.
I don’t recommend you stop flossing, of course. Oil pulling is a great addition to your dental routine rather than a replacement. However, a year ago my dentist told me to start flossing after I told her I didn’t do it, and at my most recent visit she said, “You’ve quite obviously taken my advice from last time and been religiously flossing because your teeth are in immaculate condition!” When I admitted I hadn’t flossed at all and had instead been oil pulling, she said it would be nonsensical to tell me to stop the oil pulling and take the more ‘scientific’ approach because what I was doing was obviously working. It makes sense that oil pulling has a similar effect to flossing because the idea behind both actions is to get into tiny nooks and crannies.
- Get the tissues ready.
Getting rid of bad bacteria is a form of detoxification, and when you detoxify the mouth, the symptoms of this removal of toxins come hard and fast. I find that I have to blow my nose several times and cough out phlegm that comes up in the throat after oil pulling. Lovely and ladylike! On the plus side, this may be related to my taste and sense of smell becoming practically superhuman.
- It’s a good excuse for some other acts of self-care.
During the week, I have to fit in oil pulling when I can. Sometimes this means doing it for less time (even 5 minutes) or while I’m in the shower. At the weekends, however, I enjoy not being able to talk for the full 20 minutes. I stick my toes in a foot bath with magnesium flakes and do some meditating or deep breathing at the same time. Doing several positive things for good health is an empowering and energetic way to start the day.
- It alleviates any pain or stiffness I get from clenching my teeth while I sleep by helping loosen up my jaw.
Oil pulling is certainly considered to be on the ‘stranger’ side of the natural health spectrum. It shouldn’t be because – as a mechanical action – it’s not really very different to using mouthwash. But where mouthwash removes all bacteria including the good, oil pulling seems to retain the delicate balance. It can be difficult to get used to the texture of oil in the mouth and some people find they gag initially, but for those who stick with this practice, the benefits look extremely promising indeed.