IS OIL PULLING THE SILVER BULLET IT IS TOUTED TO BE?
Article Updated on 12 July 2023
This article is continuously updated.
The concept of oil pulling— washing the mouth with an oil — is gaining attention globally. It is endorsed by several celebrities on the internet, and many swear by its health benefits. It is an ancient practice that has gained renewed interest among people looking for an alternative to reduce the adverse effects of modern medicine.
In this article, we discuss the concept of oil pulling in detail and its benefits for oral health.
What is Oil Pulling?
Oil pulling (or oil washing) is a home-based remedy that involves swishing oil in the mouth for 5-20 minutes early in the morning. The concept of oil pulling dates back to 3000 BC and has been extensively discussed in Ayurvedic texts such as Charaka Samhita and Sushrutha’s Arthashastra. This process is known as Kavala Gandoosha or Kavala Graha in Ayurveda. The continuous swishing of oil inside the mouth activates several enzymes (proteins) that remove toxins from the blood, curing several systemic and oral diseases. Research suggests that after practicing oil pulling for 40 days, a 20% reduction in the microbial count was observed in the oral cavity.
What Oils are Used for Oil Pulling?
Here are some of the oils that can be used for oil pulling:
- Coconut oil: Coconut oil is the most recommended oil for oil pulling. It mainly comprises lauric acid, which offers antimicrobial properties against a wide range of microorganisms in the mouth. In addition, coconut oil boosts the immune system and has anti-inflammatory properties beneficial to oral health. Even the pleasant taste of the oil makes it comfortable to use. Coconut oil has antiseptic properties and is considered safe to use.
- Sesame oil: Sesame oil is rich in chemicals (e.g., sesamin, sesamolin, also sesaminol) containing Vitamin E and good fats (polyunsaturated fatty acids). The presence of vitamin E in sesame oil infuses antioxidant properties that lessen damage or injury to the oral tissues. Research suggests sesame oil aids in the removal of the bacterial film (plaque) present on teeth and gums.
- Olive oil: Olive oil contains 70% of healthy fats (monosaturated fatty acids) and is rich in vitamin A, E, and K. These constituents impart antimicrobial and antioxidative effects, which aid in oral care. It is claimed that oil pulling using olive oil prevents bad breath.
- Refined sunflower oil: Refined sunflower oil is rich in antioxidants and has antimicrobial properties. Just like sesame oil, it helps remove the bacterial film from the surfaces of teeth and gums.
Liquid extracts of gooseberries and mangoes can also be used for oil pulling.
What are the Different Types of Oil Pulling?
According to Ayurvedic texts, there are two different types of oil pulling—Kavala Gandoosha and Kavala Graha
• Kavala Gandoosha - In this type, oil is filled in the mouth and held for 3-5 minutes, then spat out. As the mouth of the user is completely filled with oil, gargling is not possible. This is medicative in nature and recommended for individuals with dry mouth.
• Kavala Graha - In this type, a smaller quantity of oil is taken in the mouth by the user and gargled for three minutes with the mouth closed. This is the most used technique as it is believed that the swishing motion enables better cleansing of teeth and gums.
How is Oil Pulling performed?
Oil pulling should be ideally performed in the morning on an empty stomach. It is best practiced in a seated and chin up position. Here are some of the steps involved in performing oil pulling:
- Take one tablespoon of oil (~10ml) into the mouth.
- Swish the oil gently for 5-20 minutes between the teeth. If the jaw starts aching, then reduce the duration of the procedure. Swishing oil changes the consistency of oil and makes it thin and milky.
- Spit the oil on a tissue paper or directly into the trash.
- Use water to rinse your mouth thoroughly, followed by brushing and flossing.
What is the Mechanism of Action of Oil Pulling?
The exact mechanism of oil pulling is still not clear. However, some of the proposed theories are as follows:
- Oils used in oil pulling are rich in antioxidants. These antioxidants damage the bacterial cell wall and remove infection-causing microorganisms aiding in oral health maintenance.
- During oil pulling, oil gets emulsified (oil combined with water present in the saliva), and its surface area increases. This allows oil to coat different surfaces of teeth and gums in the mouth. Since oils used for oil pulling contain fats, it attracts the fat-rich layer (lipid layer) of bacterial cell membranes causing them to stick to the oil. When people spit the oil after swishing, they spit out the toxins too. This process claims to inhibit the formation of the bacterial film (plaque) responsible for tooth decay, gum infections, and bad odor. 
What are the Benefits of Oil Pulling?
Oil pulling is a simple and cost-effective procedure that does not require specialized oils. It is believed to cure approximately 30 different systemic ailments, including migraine, headaches, asthma, eczema, diabetes, and cough. In addition, it offers benefits in several oral conditions. These include:
- Tooth decay: Oil pulling with coconut and sesame oil has been reported to have an antibacterial effect against several bacterial species (e.g., Streptococcus mutans and Lactobacilli), which are known to release chemicals that cause demineralization (loss of mineral content) of the tooth surface, resulting in decay. Research suggests that following a 40-day regimen of oil pulling results in a 20% reduction in the number of microorganisms in the oral cavity.
- Gum disease: The presence of plaque (a sticky film of bacteria) on the tooth surface often results in gum diseases, such as gingivitis (gum inflammation). Oil pulling is known to reduce bacterial film (plaque) formation and the growth of microorganisms that cause inflammation of the gums. Research suggests that 45 days of oil-pulling therapy using sunflower oil resulted in an 18-30% reduction in plaque scores and 52-60% in gingivitis.
- Bad breath: Bad breath is caused by the release of sulfide compounds after the degradation of food debris by various oral bacteria. Oil pulling, especially with sesame oil, has been reported to be effective against oral bacteria that cause bad breath. Research suggests that oil pulling is effective against bad breath, similar to chlorhexidine mouthwash (medicated mouthwash prescribed by dentists). In addition, unlike chlorhexidine mouthwash, oil pulling does not stain teeth or alter taste sensation with prolonged use.
- Fungal infection: Fungal infection (oral candidiasis) in the mouth is common among denture wearers, individuals who are on prolonged antibiotic therapy, those using steroid inhalers for asthma, and those undergoing chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Oil pulling aids in the removal of causative microorganisms by trapping them during oil swishing. Additionally, oil pulling using coconut oil removes microorganisms by killing them.
- Teeth whitening: Some reports suggest that coconut oil pulling whitens teeth. However, these claims require further investigation.
What to Expect Before, During, and After Oil Pulling?
Some of the things to be expected before, during, and after oil pulling are as follows:
Oil pulling is recommended in the morning on an empty stomach before brushing and flossing. It is believed that oil pulling performed before brushing and flossing helps keep the mouth clean after oil filled with toxins is spat out.
During the procedure, put a tablespoon of oil into the mouth and swish gently or rigorously between the teeth and gums for 5-20 minutes. Once the swishing completes, the oil mixes with saliva and turns thin and milky white. It is then spit out and the mouth is thoroughly rinsed with water. If jaw pain occurs due to prolonged swishing of oil, the procedure can be reduced to 5-10 minutes. It is recommended to avoid swallowing viscous oil because it contains bacteria and toxins.
Individuals may feel freshness in their breath immediately after the oil pulling. However, the major oil pulling benefits are more evident after a few weeks. In individuals with high gum inflammation, it may take months to restore gum health.
Who Might Benefit and Who Should Avoid Oil Pulling
Oil pulling may be beneficial in individuals seeking additional ways to prevent tooth decay and maintain gum health. It may also benefit individuals with bad breath or dry mouth.
To date, no contraindications have been suggested for oil pulling. However, it can be avoided by individuals who experience nausea or gagging during the procedure, have undergone a recent oral surgical procedure, or have an oral infection. In such individuals, it is best recommended to begin oil pulling once the oral site heals or the infection subsides. In addition, it should be avoided in children below five years of age. Individuals allergic to coconut, sesame, or sunflower oil can also refrain from oil pulling.
Tips to get started with Oil Pulling (Duration, Selecting an oil)
Some of the tips to consider while starting with oil pulling are as follows.
- Use organic cold-pressed oils instead of processed oils since processed oils lose most of their nutrients during processing
- Develop a routine to perform oil pulling on an empty stomach before brushing and flossing to experience better results.
- Perform oil pulling for a shorter duration of 3-5 minutes in the beginning, gradually extending it to 15-20 minutes.
- Spit the oil in the tissue instead of the sink or toilet to avoid clogging of pipes over time.
What Precautions are Recommended during Oil Pulling?
- Avoid swallowing oil as it contains toxins and microorganisms, which may have adverse effects on general health.
- Brush and floss your teeth after oil pulling.
- Avoid the intake of beverages immediately after oil pulling. It is recommended only after rinsing the mouth.
What are the Shortcomings of Oil Pulling?
In rare cases, lipoid pneumonia is reported in people who accidentally swallow the oil rich in toxins while oil pulling. Commonly observed symptoms include - fever, weight loss, cough, breathlessness, discomfort in the chest, and blood-filled sputum. Sometimes people also complain of an upset stomach after oil pulling.
Is Oil Pulling good for the Mouth?
Oil pulling is among the easiest and most inexpensive means to maintain oral hygiene. According to research by University of Oxford scientists, it has no adverse effects and may benefit oral hygiene. However, it does not reverse the effects of tooth decay and gum infections or cure these conditions completely. It can only act as an additional oral hygiene practice that can be used alongside brushing and flossing of teeth.
In addition, American Dental Association doesn’t recommend this practice as there is inadequate scientific evidence supporting the benefits of oil pulling in improving oral health. Even the existing literature lacks high-quality trials of a longer duration. 
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Does oil pulling whiten teeth?
Oil pulling helps remove the plaque from the tooth surface, which imparts a yellowish appearance to the teeth. Removal of plaque results in whitening of teeth. However, oil pulling for teeth whitening may not be effective if the teeth are yellow due to internal staining (stains within the layers of tooth).
How often should you oil pull? Is it ok to oil pull every day?
Oil pulling can be performed once daily on an empty stomach for 5-20 minutes to maintain oral health. Some researchers recommend oil pulling thrice a day before meals to hasten the healing of acute oral conditions. However, performing oil pulling thrice daily can be exhausting and may result in soreness of the jaws.
Is oil pulling safe?
The short answer is yes. According to research by University of Oxford scientists, it has no adverse effects and may benefit oral hygiene. However, a few individuals may complain of upset stomach or nausea after oil pulling. In rare cases, lipoid pneumonia was reported in people who accidentally swallowed the oil rich in toxins while oil pulling.
Can oil pulling reverse cavities?
Oil pulling does not reverse already formed cavities. However, oil pulling can be effective against bacteria that cause cavities, preventing the formation of new ones.
Do you oil pull before or after brushing?
Research suggests that oil pulling before brushing and flossing offers better results. This is because brushing and flossing after oil pulling allows the complete removal of the oil filled with bacterial toxins.
Can oil pulling be performed with braces?
Regular oil pulling may help reduce bacteria in the mouth and keep areas around brackets clean. However, oil pulling should only be used as an adjunct to regular brushing and flossing to enhance oral care. It is also recommended to consult an orthodontist before starting oil pulling if you wear braces.
Does oil pulling remove tartar?
Research suggests that oil pulling is effective against plaque, a soft white thin bacterial film. However, oil pulling may not be effective enough to remove the hardened, calcified mass of tartar.
How long does it take for oil pulling to work?
It may take a few weeks to months to experience the benefits of oil pulling. This variation in duration depends on the intensity of oral conditions present in the mouth. According to a research study, oil pulling, when regularly performed by individuals aged 16-18 years, resulted in a 50% reduction in plaque and plaque-induced inflammation of gums (gingivitis) after a month. However, signs of improvement were evident after 7 days.
Which oil is good for oil pulling?
The benefits of oil pulling with coconut oil or sesame oil that make these good choices are that they are rich in antioxidants and have antibacterial properties.
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