That Oil Pulling Thing: Explained



Have you heard of oil pulling? It’s kind of an odd term that has beauty and health DIY-ers buzzing about its benefits, touting the practice as a daily ritual with bountiful health benefits. Depending on your beliefs (for few studies have been done) and your health philosophy, it can create a clean, healthy mouth with the potential to help treat farsightedness, anorexia and migraines, to name a few disorders that don’t have much to do with your oral functioning. Is any of it true? Is it worth a try? Read below to find out the basics of this hot “new” holistic practice.

What is oil pulling?

Basically, it’s using one of a variety of non-refined food oils (coconut, sesame or sunflower) you can buy at your grocery store as mouthwash. The practice is simple, and if you’ve swished around mouthwash, you already know how to oil pull. The main difference is the time in which you leave the oil in your mouth. Advocates suggest anything between 5- and 20-minute swishing sessions followed by regular brushing. That’s a commitment compared to the 60 seconds recommended on your bottle of antibacterial mouthwash! The word “pull” is a reference to the oil’s ability to detoxify and pull bacteria/toxins out of the mouth.

Where does oil pulling come from?

It may be new to the U.S., but this practice is old. Like thousands of years old. It hails from the holistic, alt-medicine philosophy in India known as Ayurveda. Ancient text describes it as “gandusha” or “keval.” And we call it “oil pulling” — not very sexy by comparison, eh? According to Ayurveda, oil pulling can treat or cure up to 30 systemic diseases in the body. 

But how did it gain traction in the 21st century? According to Snopes, it was a 2008 book by Bruce Fife titled Oil Pulling Therapy: Detoxifying and Healing the Body Through Oral Cleansing that started the buzz. 

The hype about oil pulling

When it comes to your mouth, you’re looking at a nice moist, dark place where bacteria love to hang out. Any dentist will tell you that, and it’s why brushing, flossing and mouthwash are advocated. Scraping and cleaning the mouth to rid it of bacteria is already a common practice today, but a hardcore oil puller might tell you the practice does more than keep your gums healthy, your breath fresh and your teeth whiter, as well as reduce gum bleeding (all beneficial claims). They’ll tell you that it has the potential to detoxify your entire body, that it reduces pain, helps clear up skin issues like eczema and even improves vision, along with a number of other bodily health claims pointed out in the intro to this article. What’s the truth?

The truth about oil pulling

The truth is, few studies have been done on oil pulling, but those that have been conducted focusing on oral health are positive. They certainly indicate there’s no ill health effects to the practice. Oil does have saponification (cleansing) properties. And cleaning out your mouth is never a bad thing, especially with a natural, chemical-free substance. Those who have oil pulled make claims that their teeth are whiter, issues with gums bleeding have stopped, and one study has shown it helps to reduce the amount of plaque on teeth, therefore reducing the risk of gingivitis, cavities and other nasty things that happen due to plaque buildup. Another study concluded that participants saw plaque reduction comparable to that seen using chlorhexidine mouthwash. There is zero scientific evidence that it helps with the health of any other part of your body. Your liver and kidneys detox your body, not your mouth. Over at SheKnows, one woman who gave it a shot said the daily ritual helped calm her before bedtime, so there’s that possibility too. 

Our conclusion?

If you want to ditch your mouthwash and pull oil to keep your mouth clean instead, it’s worth a shot. But don’t take our word for it, ring your dentist and see what she or he has to say before starting a new oral health regimen.