Monday, August 11, 2014

Does Oil Pulling Work?

Starting the day off at the beach with your skin smelling of tropical-scented sunscreen can be one of life's greatest pleasures. Smelling coconut oil as you swish it around in your mouth before work -- well, that's another story. 

What is Oil Pulling?
Oil pulling, or placing oil in the mouth to kill harmful bacteria, seems to have caught on recently. It's a controversial practice that takes dedication and time, though fortunately not the 10 or 20 minutes of marathon swishing some sources suggest. Oil pulling, an ancient Ayurvedic folk practice, dates back 3,000 to 5,000 years to traditional Indian medical remedies. Advocates claim swishing any type of oil in your mouth every day will whiten your teeth, reduce bacteria, strengthen your gums and jaw, improve your skin, clear your sinuses, prevent ​bad breath and even protect against heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease

Two sessions of four minutes, as recommended by Dr. Amala Guha, assistant professor of immunology and medicine at the University of Connecticut Health Center and the founding president of The International Society for Ayurveda and Health, were sufficient for my first attempt at oil pulling. The taste itself isn't so bad on the surface, but putting chunky coconut oil in your mouth before being fully awake can trigger a gag reflex.

"People are saying that their breath is better, their gums don’t bleed anymore and their teeth look a little whiter," says Jeffrey Dalin​, a dentist based in St. Louis. "I haven’t had the guts to do it, but I think it’s something at least worth looking into." 

What does research say?
But what's the scope (and scoop) on this mouth rinse practice? Does it work?
"It's not given proper credit," said Guha, who was trained in Ayurveda, a traditional form of medicine that relies on natural healing, in India. She explains that using liquids in the mouth for health purposes is mentioned in two ancient Indian Ayurvedic texts (one written in 800 B.C. and the other in 700 B.C.), and the practice is part of one of the oldest health systems in the world.

Oil pulling for oral hygiene is common. But before you go racing out to the store for oil, the American Dental Association cautions that because of a lack of evidence, they do not recommend oil pulling as a replacement for standard oral health care such as flossing and teeth brushing.

The texts also claim that about 30 systemic diseases, including headaches and diabetes, can be cured. Yet there is a lack of knowledge on the science and side effects behind the practice, according to Guha.

A small study published in 2009 involving sesame oil and 20 adolescent boys with plaque-induced gingivitis found that oil pulling reduced plaque and the bacterium Streptococcus mutans. This bacterium is cited as being a major cause of tooth decay and overgrowth of bacteria in mouth can also lead to gum disease.

A larger study published in 2013, also using sesame oil, found similar results, summarizing that oil pulling had a significant effect on plaque and gingivitis.
For coconut oil users, lauric acid found in the oil can be a benefit. It is known for its antimicrobial properties, such as the ability to fight off viruses, bacteria and yeasts.

Another study from 2011 says, "Oil pulling therapy has been equally effective like chlorhexidine [mouthwash] on halitosis and organisms."

How it works
Guha says there are two oil pulling techniques: kavala and gandusa.

Kavala: fill your mouth with liquid and hold it there for a couple of minutes before swirling it around the mouth and spitting it out. The process shouldn't exceed more than three or four minutes; it's repeated at least two or three times.

Gandusa: the technique of holding the liquid still in the mouth for three to five minutes. The liquid is then spit out and the process is repeated.

In Ayurveda, many different liquids can be used depending on the condition being treated and the physiology of the person. Milk, honey and hot water containing herbs are just some of the other mediums, explains Guha.

For daily oral hygiene, she recommends using coconut or sesame oil, which she says have mild abrasive powers and more healing benefits than other oils (and are less harmful).

Where to dispose the oil?
Jennifer Beckinsale, who tried oil pulling for 10 days, spit hers into a disposable cup and threw it away, but didn't like how wasteful that felt. Still, she says she would try oil pulling again. Remember, your sink is out, because the oil may harden and clog your pipes.

When to expect results?
Results can be expected in a few months with benefits such as reduced plaque, cavity prevention and stronger gums for individuals who already have a healthy mouth. For the person with plaque buildup, we recommend a teeth cleaning first for faster results.

How it doesn't work
Mark Wolff, professor and chair at the New York University College of Dentistry, expresses skepticism about oil pulling's effects on oral health. "I am not sure there is any harm, but I have never seen it have any positive effect on my patients who have been using oil pulling or in clinical research that has been published."

Limited research, mostly dating back to 2008 and 2009, suggests oil pulling – particularly with coconut oil – can stop plaque from forming. But evidence is lacking, and experts caution that you shouldn’t expect any greater benefits. "There’s absolutely no data whatsoever that shows diabetes can be treated or prevented, or that heart disease can be," says Lyla Blake-Gumbs, a physician with the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Integrative Medicine. "It’s not a new practice – it’s been done thousands of years – but there were no real records kept​. So I can’t go to any objective, well-run clinical trials to look into the other claims." 

There is also little research available on the effectiveness of these treatments to cure other diseases.

Negative Side Effects
Guha warns that there can be negative side effects if improper technique is used, including dry mouth, excessive thirst, muscular stiffness, exhaustion and loss of sensation or taste in the mouth. Oil pulling likely won’t cause any adverse effects – so long as you don’t swallow the oil. Doing so could cause diarrhea or an upset stomach, Blake-Gumbs says. And the swooshing itself isn’t going to taste good. Oil, be it olive, sesame or coconut, is often difficult to tolerate – and some types are solid at room temperature, until they begin to melt in your mouth. "I had one patient tell me she did it with sesame oil first, and she couldn’t hold it in her mouth because it was too strong a flavor," Blake-Gumbs says. "Then she tried olive oil, and that was more agreeable to her."

Are You Interested?
Individuals who are interested in trying kavala or gandusa to treat health conditions need to review all credentials of Ayruvedic practitioners before starting any treatment. Guha says that there are very few trained professionals in the United States as none of the Ayurveda schools here are accredited; only schools in India provide the proper certifications.

Bottom line? 
Oil pulling is relatively simple and inexpensive – coconut oil runs around $10 ​or less​ ​​​​– and it’s not invasive. But there’s still no solid evidence that it actually works, and experts agree that if you’re concerned about your teeth, it’s best to brush at least twice a day for two minutes each time.

If you're just looking for a natural way to boost your oral health, you can oil away without supervision and get about the same benefits as commercial mouthwash.

Just don't forget to floss.


  1. I appreciate your information on the Halitosis. I wrote about this, too, recently. More specifically about the causes and cure to Halitosis.

  2. Oil pulling really works well when it comes to health. It gives more effective treatment in our mouth. Several benefits could also be taken from using this kind of material. Lately, I used the Coconut Oil teeth whitening products and it really works excellent for me.

  3. Thank you so much for this helpful post. I really like your article. I think before applying these, you should consult with the dentist. Dental discount plans Texas can help to get discount on dental treatment.

  4. Oil puling really works so well. Thanks for sharing its oil pulling for oral health benefits. It is also good for immunity.