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How Does Oil Pulling Work? Effective, or Bogus Fad?

By Robyn Openshaw, MSW | Jul 17, 2018

Blog: How Does Oil Pulling Work? Effective, or Bogus Fad?

What some consider a recent fad has really been around for thousands of years and is part of one of the oldest medical systems: Ayurvedic medicine. Oil Pulling was first mentioned in Indian Ayurvedic texts written more than 2000 years ago.

What is Oil Pulling? How Do You Do Oil Pulling?

Oil pulling is used for the following:

  • Preventing tooth decay
  • Establishing healthy gums
  • Getting rid of bad breath
  • Inhibiting the adhesion of plaque
  • Whitening teeth
Coconut oil can greatly improve your oral health. Photograph of a toothbrush and a small glass jar full of coconut oil.

Oil pulling is a great addition to your oral health routine.

To try oil pulling, you simply take 1 to 2 tablespoons of your oil of choice (organic, raw coconut oil or cold-ressed sunflower oil, for instance) and swish it around in your mouth for 10 to 20 minutes. The oil attracts and pulls out bacteria, viruses, fungi, and toxins. (I’ve got a demonstration video at the end of this article.)

In order to discuss the reason behind this phenomenon, we’ll need to journey back to Biology 101 for just a moment. As you may remember, bacteria and other microbes are single cell organisms whose skin is a fatty membrane. When they come into contact with oil, they stick to it.

As you draw the oil through your teeth and around your gums, the oil is picking up these toxins that are hiding in the crevices of your gums and in the microscopic tubules that run through your teeth.

After about 5 minutes, the oil turns a milky white, which indicates the presence of bacteria.

And, in just minutes–first thing in the morning being the best time to do it–you now have a mouth that has dramatically reduced colonies of bacteria and toxins. You won’t just have fresh breath; you’re also decreasing the load on your immune system, and decreasing your risk of illness.

What kind of oil is best for oil pulling?

Coconut oil is legendary for its numerous health benefits. Photograph of whole coconuts and solid coconut oil.

Oil pulling with coconut oil can remove toxins from your mouth, improving your overall health.

Coconut oil is often recommended due to its high lauric acid content, which is also found in high concentrations in human breast milk. It’s estimated that approximately 50 percent of the fat in coconut oil is made up of this type of antimicrobial acid.1

And one of the bacteria it disposes of is Streptococcus mutans, the bacteria that is considered the number-one culprit behind tooth decay.

Another ingredient found in coconut oil is capric acid, which is also known for its antimicrobial properties. So, not only are you drawing toxins out of hidden crevices, you are destroying them in the process.

A study conducted on a group of adolescents age 16 to 18 found a significant reduction in plaque and gingival indices after just 7 days of coconut oil pulling.2

Sesame oil and sunflower oil are other options for those that have difficulty with the thickness and taste of coconut oil. (Coconut oil is solid, at cooler temperatures, so it must be “melted” in the mouth for the first 60 seconds.)

One study conducted on a group of people with mild to moderate plaque and gingivitis revealed that, after 45 days, the group that performed sesame oil pulling showed a significant reduction in plaque and gingivitis, while the group that did not use oil pulling showed an increase.3

There are a few additional instructions you should follow in order to get the most from your oil pulling.

  • Make it a routine. Perform at least three to five times a week first thing in the morning, before you have had anything to eat or drink.
  • Don’t swallow it. This once beneficial oil now contains a host of microbes.
  • Once your 10 to 20 minutes is complete, spit out the oil in a garbage can. Spitting it into the sink will likely cause plumbing problems as the oil hardens and clogs the pipes (especially coconut oil).
  • Rinse, brush your teeth, and smile.

How Does Oil Pulling Help your Whole Body?

The tongue is the beginning of your digestive tract, which continues on for about 30 more feet.

In Ayurvedic medicine, each organ is connected to a different section of the tongue. For instance, the part of your tongue that corresponds with your intestines is found in the back central part of your tongue with your kidneys corrolated with either side.

Because of this connection, in the process of drawing toxins out of your mouth, Ayurvedic tradition teaches that you are detoxifying your whole body. This holistic health approach is very similar to eastern healing traditions, such as acupuncture.

According to a report in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, oil pulling is “believed to cure more than thirty systemic diseases when practiced regularly and as directed.”4

Over thirty systemic diseases prevented by simply swishing oil in your mouth, for a few minutes each morning?

This may seem an outlandish claim, but consider that there are millions of bacteria living in your mouth, and that these bacteria have been associated with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, kidney disease, pneumonia, meningitis, arthritis and sinusitis, and many more.

Watch me demonstrate how to do oil pulling in this video:

Next: Learn about another detox practice that feels great–skin brushing! I’ll send you a free, illustrated how-to chart!


  1. Emery, Jessica T. DMD. “How Dental Professionals can Respond to ‘Oil Pulling’ Patients.” DentistryiQ. 03/2014.
  2. Peedikayil, Faizal C. et al. “Effect of coconut oil in plaque related gingivitis–A preliminary report.Nigerian Medical Journal. 03/2015.
  3. Saravanan, Deepshika et al. “Effect of Oil Pulling with Sesame Oil on Plaque-induced Gingivitis: A Microbiological Study.J Orofac Res. 03/2013.
  4. Shanbhag, Vagish Kumar. “Oil pulling for maintaining oral hygiene–A review.” Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine. 01/2017.
  5. Cheshire, Sara. “Does Oil Pulling Work?” CNN. 08/2014.

Posted in: Biological Dentistry, Health, Natural Remedy

19 thoughts on “How Does Oil Pulling Work? Effective, or Bogus Fad?”

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  1. Patti LeDuff says:

    One of my daughters has been oil pulling with coconut oil for the past several months. She recently went to the dentist after not going for over a year and a half. The hygienist told her she had absolutely no plaque on her teeth! Then the dentist came in and said the same thing and was wondering why as she had always had some plaque in the past. She never did tell the dentist she was oil pulling. So I called the dentist office and told them why she had no plaque. The person that answered the phone said she had never heard of oil pulling, but she would tell the dentist. She said they were all talking about my daughter’s lack of plaque after she had left!

    1. Elsa Anderson says:

      What a fantastic story, Patti!! This truly makes me so happy. I am also an avid oil puller, so hearing others finding great success in it is music to my ears. I will be sure to pass this along to Robyn.

    2. Helen Blair says:

      Great story and we appreciate you sharing it with our readers! Oil pulling works!

  2. Gina says:

    Wondering; why not brush the teeth first, before pulling, to get rid of some of the bacteria? It just seems gross to me to pull before brushing. Would brushing first take away any benefit?

    1. Elsa Anderson says:

      Hi Gina,

      It is important to brush afterwards to ensure that all of the toxins that are drawn out of the mouth are removed. So, you could brush before, but than you’d also have to brush after.

  3. Sherry says:

    I am wondering why you just can’t brush with coconut oil, instead of pulling it through. I know someone who does it this way. I have tried pulling it through and can’t last longer than a minute before I have to spit out. My electric toothbrush is very efficient and gets into all the crevices and then you could spit out whatever is left in your mouth.

    1. Elsa Anderson says:

      Hi Sherry,

      Brushing with oil is simply not as effective and I can’t imagine brushing our teeth for 15-20mins would be healthy for our gums and tooth enamel. I also love my electric toothbrush, but it is not as efficient as oil being pulled in and out of all the nooks and crannies of our teeth and gums. Just like flossing is important on top of brushing, oil pulling has it’s own purpose that a toothbrush simply cannot achieve.

      Don’t worry about only being able to pull for one minute, this is very common for beginners. My suggestion would be to start with less than a tablespoon and work your way up to the full amount. Same goes for the time. Each day try to add an extra minute until you reach 15-20 mins. Before you know it, you’ll be a master at it and you’ll have gained some great facial muscle along the way. 🙂 Another helpful tip is adding a tiny drop of food grade peppermint essential oil to help with the taste. Good luck!

  4. Mark says:

    Thanks for a very interesting article, I’ll have to try this.
    One comment, though. Doesn’t the oil turn milky because it forms an emulsion with the water in saliva? That doesn’t have anything to do with bacteria, however well it may work at getting rid of them. Tapwater would do the same thing with oil.

    1. Elsa Anderson says:

      Hi Mark, That could be part of it, however if you do a spit test first thing in the morning, before you put anything into your mouth, you will see how cloudy white your saliva is. That’s bacteria! The spit test can be done by filling up a glass of water and spitting into the cup. Many folks with candida (yeast overgrowth), have it even worse, where they wake with a thick white film on their tongue!

  5. TeriE says:

    Why is it best to oil pull before eating or drinking?

    I’ve been practicing oil pulling for about a month now (it was included as part of a course I’m taking). Their instructions recommend "in the morning" but they don’t specify "before eating or drinking." To me, it makes more sense to oil pull after my breakfast. I then rinse my mouth with salt water and brush my teeth. My mouth is clean until my next meal.

    What am I missing?

    1. Elsa Anderson says:

      Hi TeriE, Great question! Our mouth is loaded with bacteria that has grown overnight, so we want to eradicate that before eating or drinking otherwise we’re swallowing this bacteria rather than removing it from our system.

  6. Vicki says:

    Does coconut oil lose it’s effectiveness if briefly heated in the microwave to turn the oil into liquid form before pulling?

    1. Elsa Anderson says:

      Hi Vicki, Why do you need to heat it when your mouth can melt it? 🙂
      If you are going to heat it, we’d prefer you do that over the stovetop as microwaves have so many negative effects. But to answer your question, no, not necessarily as coconut oil has a high heat tolerance.

  7. Deonne says:

    Just wandering if you have to keep the oil moving around the whole time and can you do it for a shorter time. I find my mouth gets tired continuously swishing it around and cant and cant even reach 5 minutes

    1. Elsa Anderson says:

      Hi Deonne,
      Yes, it is best to continue swooshing for the full 15-20 mins, however don’t be discouraged. Many beginners run into this hurdle as we’re not used to using our facial muscles so much! Simply work your way up to the full 15-20mins. Challenge yourself by adding 1min each day until you hit the mark. Good luck!

  8. Giovanna says:

    Hi, very interesting article, thank you for sharing it. I would like to know if there is any scientific evidence that oil pulling is effective in improving gum disease (like germ counts at baseline and after 2 months of treatment) and if it has been shown that some oils are better than others for this effect. I have not found any evidence but maybe you know more than me. Thank you!

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