You brush, floss, and go to the dentist twice a year. Surely you are guaranteed good oral health after all of that, right? While these are all important, you may be missing another habit in your daily routine that could benefit your whole body — oil pulling. In just 15 minutes a day, this ancient Ayurvedic remedy can boost heart and gum health and reduce bad breath.
You may be wondering, what exactly is oil pulling, and how do you do it? Before you grab oil out of your pantry and start swishing it around in your mouth, you should know a few things about this intriguing practice.
What is oil pulling?
As the name would suggest, oil pulling is simply swishing about a tablespoon of oil around in your mouth for 5-15 minutes, pushing it between your teeth like liquid floss.
Edible oil works in the mouth to clear away lingering bacteria, plaque, draw toxins out of the body, and reduce bad breath. Or at least, that is the idea. But where did this strange oral habit come from? And can it really do all of that? Let’s see what science has to say about it.
A brief history of oil pulling
The history of oral hygiene is fascinating and more complex than you might think. For thousands of years, people have been utilizing makeshift toothbrushes, plants as toothpaste, and other tools to pick at, clean, and take care of their teeth. However, the history of oral hygiene wouldn’t be complete without oil pulling.
Though you may have heard of it only recently, oil pulling or Gandusha is far from a new tradition. It has been around for over 3,000 years! Ancient Ayurvedic practitioners in India utilized oil pulling to benefit the body, prevent and reverse disease in the mouth, and look after the teeth and gums.
Benefits of oil pulling
Oil pulling doesn’t replace proper dental care and brushing and flossing, but it is undoubtedly an excellent and effective addition to your oral hygiene routine.
Oil pulling can:
- Improve gum health. Gingivitis is an inflammatory gum disease caused by poor oral hygiene and bacterial buildup. Studies have supported the use of oil pulling to reduce plaque-related gingivitis and improve gum health.
- Reduce bad breath. Halitosis, or bad breath, can occur for several reasons. Primarily, it results from bad bacteria in your mouth that create an unpleasant stench. Studies suggest that oil pulling with sesame oil is equally effective as the prescription mouthwash chlorhexidine in reducing halitosis.
- Kill bad bacteria. While bacteria can be beneficial in some cases, bad bacteria buildup in the mouth can be a severe problem, leading to tooth decay, gum disease, and bad breath.
Though proper oral hygiene such as brushing and flossing can help keep bacteria at bay, studies show that oil pulling could help give you extra ammunition, cutting down on bacteria present in saliva.
- Whiten teeth. Anecdotal evidence suggests oil pulling could lighten teeth and prevent staining. Unfortunately, there aren’t any reputable studies to back up these claims. However, oil pulling doesn’t harm your teeth, so it’s worth a shot!
Oral health and the heart
If the eyes are the window to the soul, then the mouth is the window to the body. Looking after your teeth isn’t just essential for maintaining oral health and preventing tooth decay; it can also keep your heart healthy. Many factors contribute to heart health, and every system in the body is connected to the heart, including your mouth.
Studies have shown that people with poor oral health and conditions such as gingivitis have a higher chance of developing heart disease, including issues such as heart attack and stroke. Research has also suggested some concern with the bacteria involved in periodontal disease traveling to the bloodstream and causing an elevation in C-reactive protein, a marker for inflammation in the blood vessels. This inflammation can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.
More scientific studies are still forthcoming to back the connection between dental health and heart conditions. However, one large study of almost one million participants showed a moderate connection between tooth loss (due to poor oral hygiene) and coronary heart disease.
The best oil to use
Coconut oil is the standout oil for oral health. Its potent antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties and yummy coconut flavor make it popular for oil pulling. Plus, it contains lauric acid, which has proven anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects, making it beneficial for fighting inflammatory conditions in the mouth such as gingivitis.
Sesame oil is another popular choice linked to a 20 percent reduction in harmful bacteria after 40 days of oil pulling. You may also use sunflower oil, but it is not as well-studied as coconut and sesame oil. Many people mix sesame or sunflower oil with coconut oil to receive the benefits of both and keep coconut oil at a liquid consistency.
Oil alone is effective for oil pulling, but bacteria-killing essential oils such as peppermint, spearmint, clove, or lemon can enhance the benefits. Add one or two drops of food-grade essential oil into your tablespoon to boost the flavor and take your oil pulling up a notch.
How to oil pull
Before brushing your teeth or eating breakfast, grab your oil of choice and start swishing! It is best to oil pull on an empty stomach, so most people incorporate it into their morning routine.
- Place one tablespoon of oil in your mouth. If you use coconut oil, warm it up slightly to restore it to a liquid state. Coconut oil will melt in your mouth, but some people don’t like the initial texture.
- Swish the oil in your mouth for 5-15 minutes. It can feel like a long time at first! If you feel the urge to spit it out sooner or just don’t like the feeling of oil in your mouth, aim for just three to five minutes at first and slowly increase the amount of time you spend oil pulling.
- Be sure to push it through your teeth. You may receive some benefits from just leaving the oil in your mouth and occasionally moving it around. However, the primary gain will be in actively swishing the oil around your mouth and through your teeth. Start slowly. The oil will be thick at first but will become easier to push through your teeth as it warms up.
- Find something to do. Most people don’t have an extra 15 minutes built into their morning routine. Instead of just staring at yourself in the bathroom mirror and checking your timer every 30 seconds, use this time to make your bed, brew your coffee, read the news, take a shower, or whatever else you do in the morning. You will find it much easier to incorporate into your day this way.
- Spit it into the garbage. Do not swallow the oil! You are using an edible oil that is safe to swallow, but it is full of toxins and bacteria that you don’t want to return to your body after oil pulling. Spit it into your bathroom trashcan instead of the sink, as it could lead to clogged drains over time.
- Rinse out your mouth and brush your teeth with water only. Once spitting the oil out, rinse your mouth with warm water and brush your teeth without toothpaste. Use a different toothbrush than your normal one, as you will use this toothbrush to remove any residual oil and should reserve it for post-oil pulling.
- Brush teeth with toothpaste. Using your regular toothbrush, brush your teeth with toothpaste as you normally would in the morning.
- Drink water. After oil pulling, drink a full glass of room temperature water to rehydrate your body and get a head start on your water consumption for the day.
Note: Relax and reduce your swishing intensity if you experience jaw or facial pain or soreness after oil pulling.
The best diet for dental health
Our ancient ancestors lived off the land, eating vegetables, fruits, and meat that they caught themselves, not prepackaged pasta, white bread, and soda. It makes sense then that, though they didn’t have the benefit of bi-annual dental visits, our ancestors had exceedingly low rates of oral disease.
Along with regular oil pulling and dental care, one of the best things you can do for your teeth is to eat as they did. Eat a 100 Year Heart Diet filled with real, whole, organic foods and cut down on processed carbs and refined sugar. Your entire body, including your mouth, will benefit!
While modern science has been slow to jump on the oil pulling bandwagon, thousands of years back up its many benefits. It’s inexpensive, easy, and doesn’t pose any side effects. If you decide to include essential oils in your oil pulling routine, consider Vibrant Blue Oils for pure, organic, and wildcrafted essential oils blends. Brush your teeth twice a day, floss, and oil pull. Your dentist will thank you.
Eat Well · Live Well · Think Well
Medical Review 2022: Dr. Lauren Lattanza NMD