As simple and minimalistic skin care routines become increasingly popular, it seems the opposite is true for oral care. In recent years the topic of at-home oral care has gained traction, especially low-lift and natural practices like oil pulling.
However, not all dentists see oil pulling as an essential part of a healthy oral care routine. We asked the pros so you don't have to—is oil pulling really all that for oral health? Let's get into it.
What is oil pulling?
Before we dive into the potential benefits, let's get a clear picture of what exactly oil pulling is. On a simple level, oil pulling means placing a tablespoon or so of oil in your mouth, swishing it around for 10 to 15 minutes, and then spitting it out.
History of oil pulling:
This ritual was originally practiced in India and in Ayurvedic medicine with the goal of gently ridding the mouth of bad bacteria and supporting gum health. As Mark Burhenne, DDS, once told us, "while I personally rely more on oil pulling for oral health benefits, Ayurvedic practitioners have long touted the benefits of oil pulling as a more preventive practice. In Ayurveda, oil pulling is believed to draw out toxins from the teeth and gums1, thereby detoxifying the mouth and, if done regularly, the entire body."
In fact, he points to one review of the history and uses of oil pulling, "[Oil pulling] is claimed to cure about 30 systemic diseases2 ranging from headache, migraine to diabetes and asthma. Oil pulling has been used extensively as a traditional Indian folk remedy for many years to prevent decay, oral malodor, bleeding gums, dryness of throat, cracked lips and for strengthening teeth, gums and the jaw."
What oils can be used in oil pulling:
When discussing the basics of oil pulling, it's vital to discuss the oil itself, as many different types of oils have been used throughout history.
"In Ayurvedic tradition, sesame oil was (and still is) the popular choice. Sunflower oil has been suggested by many, but coconut oil is the most popular oil used today, particularly because of its known antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity (which are both important for promoting oral health)," says Burhenne. "According to one review3, there have also been reports of oil pulling with olive oil, gooseberry extract, mangos, and even milk. However, these have not been used in research to study oil pulling benefits."
7 benefits of oil pulling.
There is limited modern research to back up this ancient practice. However, here are a few potential benefits of oil pulling.
It may reduces bad bacteria.
"The whole premise behind oil pulling is that the fatty part of the oil attaches to the fatty cell membrane of the bacteria in your mouth, captures it, and then you spit the bacteria out with it," cosmetic dentist Victoria Veytsman, DDS, tells mbg.
Bad bacteria can lead to a host of dental issues, including bad breath. However, there aren't enough clinical studies done on bad breath and oil pulling to ensure its efficacy in that regard.
That being said, anecdotal evidence does still support the claim. "Patients will come in and tell me that their mouth feels fresher, their teeth feel smoother, [and] their breath is better," Veytsman says.
It may help reduce plaque buildup.
While bacteria may not be all bad all the time, a buildup of bacteria can lead to gingivitis.
More specifically, a bacteria called Streptococcus mutants has been known to cause plaque and gingivitis. For one preliminary study published in the Nigerian Medical Journal in 2017, 60 adolescents (ages 16-18) with plaque-induced gingivitis practiced oil pulling with coconut oil for 30 days. The study found a statistically significant decrease in plaque and gingival3 indices after seven days of oil pulling.
The study authors conclude that oil pulling can be a usable, safe, and cost effective way to reduce plaque formation, but they note that more research is needed to support this finding.
It can supports healthy gums.
"Because there is the reduction of bad oral bacteria, oil pulling can be beneficial for gum health, as well," Brooklyn-based celebrity cosmetic dentist Daniel Rubinshtein, DMD, explains. However, those prone to gum inflammation or discomfort should ask their dentist about oil pulling before committing to the practice.
It may help prevent cavities by reducing plaque (but brushing your teeth and flossing are way more important).
"Because oil pulling helps to reduce bad bacteria in the mouth, it is possible that oil pulling can prevent cavities; however, it's important to pair oil pulling with the standard practices of brushing your teeth, flossing, reducing sugar, etc.," Rubinshtein explains.
To date, no research has looked into oil pulling's role on cavity prevention. So you should never see oil pulling as a potential "fix" for preexisting cavities or gum health issues. If you feel pain in your tooth and suspect you have a cavity forming, you should always visit the dentist for a checkup rather than seek out DIY remedies.
It may help support stomach health.
Some people claim oil pulling can help ease stomach discomfort, and while there may not be clinical studies demonstrating this benefit, it makes sense based on what we know about the human microbiome.
"Oil can be soothing for the mouth and can help balance the oral microbiome, which is the bacterial colonies in the mouth. Since the mouth is connected to the gut, I can definitely see the relation there. Anything that happens in your mouth does affect the gastrointestinal system," Veytsman says, and there's research to back this up4.
Oil pulling is by no means a fix for stomach discomfort. But you may find that better oral health has downstream effects on other parts of the body—including the stomach.
It may help improve oral thrush.
"Another oil pulling benefit is a potential improvement of oral thrush," says Burhenne. "This fungal infection is caused by certain species of Candida growing in the mouth."
It's easy and affordable.
Like skin care, many oral care products and tools can get expensive. However, this one is extremely low-lift and it's affordable. While it won't replace brushing your teeth, it is one simple way to level up your oral care routine without overspending.
Side effects & safety.
As with any DIY method, it's best to consult your dentist before trying oil pulling if you're prone to cavities, gum disease, tooth sensitivity, etc. That being said, there aren't any significant side effects to be wary of, meaning oil pulling is generally a safe practice to try.
Outside of oral health, there may be lifestyle considerations too. Anecdotally, those who struggle to breathe through their nose find it challenging. Others have noted that swishing around liquid for 10 minutes can make your jaw tired. Finally, some folks just struggle to find time in their day to add it into the routine.
How to do it.
Ready to give oil pulling a shot? Here's a quick how-to:
- Pick your oil: The most research-backed oil for this purpose is coconut oil (refined or unrefined), but as we noted sesame oil is the most traditional and olive oil is a great option too. Whatever oil you choose, measure out 1 tablespoon.
- Swish: On an empty stomach in the morning, place the tablespoon of oil in your mouth. After doing this, swish it around for 10 to 15 minutes. You can go for a quick walk, clean your bedroom, make breakfast, etc., to fill the time.
- Spit: Once your time is up, spit out the oil. You may want to do so in the trash rather than the sink to avoid buildup in your pipes.
- Rinse: Rinse your mouth out with water before eating or drinking anything.
- Brush: Follow up with your normal brush routine.
It's important to note that the American Dental Association does not recommend oil pulling as part of a dental hygiene practice. “Currently, there are no reliable scientific studies to show that oil pulling reduces cavities, whitens teeth, or improves oral health and well-being," the ADA states on its MouthHealthy blog.
While the modern science on this traditional practice is limited, there is anecdotal evidence that some people find it helpful.
However, you shouldn't use it as a replacement for other dental hygiene products or tools. "I wouldn't use oil pulling to replace things like brushing your teeth, but I would use it as an adjunct," Veytsman notes.
We like to of it like a new serum in your skin care lineup: It certainly won't replace the need for cleansing your skin or using sunscreen, but it's certainly worth trying for overall skin health.
Frequently asked questions
Does oil pulling detox your body?
"The whole idea of detoxing means removing bacteria from your body, and when you do oil pulling, the fatty part of the oil sticks to the fatty cell membrane of the bacteria, and this pulls the bacteria out with it. So yes, based on that mechanism, it is a form of detoxing," Veytsman says.
Does oil pulling reduce face fat?
Some people say that oil pulling can slim down the face, but there's no evidence to support such a benefit. "They claim that oil pulling helps to exercise the face; however, if that were the case, we would all have taut faces from talking," Rubinshtein says.
What does oil pulling actually do?
Oil pulling helps balance bacteria in the mouth. However, oil pulling should not replace an oral care routine of flossing and brushing your teeth daily.
Is oil pulling good for the stomach?
This benefit has not been studied yet; however, anecdotal evidence does have some scientific explanation. "Oil can be soothing for the mouth and can help balance the oral microbiome, which is the bacterial colonies in the mouth. Since the mouth is connected to the gut, I can definitely see the relation there. Anything that happens in your mouth does affect the gastrointestinal system," Veytsman says.
With oral care routines becoming more and more complex, it's important to know what actually works and what doesn't. At the end of the day, there is some early evidence suggesting that oil pulling can help reduce bad bacteria in the mouth. However, it's not something the American Dental Association recommends. If you try oil pulling, it shouldn't replace your basic flossing and brushing routine.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on January 31, 2023 and has been updated over time. A previous version of this article indicated that oil pulling may prevent teeth yellowing. We have removed this claim based on the latest available research. While oil pulling has been shown to reduce plaque buildup, there is no evidence that it reduces yellowing. A previous version of this article claimed that oil pulling may help prevent cavities. We have since clarified that there is no scientific evidence to support this claim. Since publication, we have updated this article to reflect that the American Dental Association does not currently recommend oil pulling as part of a dental hygiene practice.
Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty & Health Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including skin care, women’s health, mental health, sustainability, social media trends, and more. She previously interned for Almost 30, a top-rated health and wellness podcast. In her current role, Hannah reports on the latest beauty trends and innovations, women’s health research, brain health news, and plenty more.