Does Oil Pulling Have Health or Oral Benefits?

Jar of solidified yellow oil next to white and pink flowers

Oil pulling is a term describing an alternative medical practice in which various types of oil are “swished” within the mouth. Practitioners claim it is capable of improving oral and whole-body health by “pulling out” supposed toxins. But does it actually work? And are there any risks associated with the practice? Here’s what you should know about oil pulling.

A Long History

A common practice in the ancient holistic system of medicine, Ayurveda, oil pulling involves the swishing of plant oils throughout the mouth and then spitting the oil out. While a variety of plant oils can be used, most people choose coconut oil.

Practitioners claim that oil pulling can help with everything from migraines and diabetes to asthma and acne. While more studies are needed to evaluate these claims, some evidence indicates that oil pulling might be beneficial to dental health.

One study found that subjects experienced a statistically significant decrease in plaque and gingival indices after a month of oil pulling. Combined with other similar research, there is some sparse evidence that oil pulling may help improve dental health at least somewhat. That said, there are some things to consider before adding oil pulling to your oral hygiene routine. 

Should Oil Pulling Replace Brushing and Flossing?

Similar to mineral scale on a bathtub, plaque must be removed from teeth through scraping and brushing. Even if oil pulling has the ability to kill bacteria or limit its ability to form plaque, the practice will not be enough to prevent buildup. To prevent tooth decay and gum disease, you need to brush, floss and schedule regular cleanings with your dentist. 

If you do choose to rinse with coconut oil, you should view it as a supplemental act only. Without a doubt, the best way to reduce the risk of gingivitis and cavities is through good old-fashioned brushing and flossing. This is the most effective way to loosen plaque from the surface of teeth and prevent periodontal inflammation which can promote tooth loss.

Should I Try Oil Pulling? 

While oil pulling might offer some health benefits, experts agree that more research is needed. Right now, the American Dental Association does not endorse oil pulling as a beneficial oral hygiene practice, citing a lack of peer-reviewed scientific research to support its use for oral conditions. Conversely, there are countless studies showing the clear benefits of a traditional oral hygiene regimen that includes brushing twice daily with fluoride toothpaste. 

While it may be just fine to incorporate oil pulling into your oral hygiene routine, don’t view it as a replacement for brushing, flossing and regular dental exams. 

You should also be careful where you get your oil. Researchers at Harvard Medical School recently found that several Ayurvedic herbal medical products contained potentially harmful levels of mercury, arsenic and/or lead. To make sure your oil is free from potentially harmful contaminants, choose an organic coconut oil from a reputable domestic provider.