The oral cavity is home to billions of microorganisms (that’s right…billions!), including an estimated 750 different species of bacteria (1). Problems with oral health can lead to numerous health issues, including cardiovascular disease, and even diabetes mellitus (2). But while there is no question as to whether oral health is important to one’s overall state of health, some still question the claims that oil pulling can improve oral health. I’m a big proponent of oil pulling, which is why I decided to put together this blog post.
I’d like to start out by discussing what oil pulling involves. Essentially oil pulling involves taking a small amount of oil (i.e. coconut oil, sesame oil) and swishing it around your mouth for 10 to 20 minutes. By swishing the oil in your mouth it is “pulled” between your teeth. After you’re done you want to spit it out in a trash can or paper towel. Don’t spit the oil in your sink…unless if you want to clog it! Some sources also suggest to swish some warm water in your mouth a few times after oil pulling, and you can then brush your teeth afterwards.
When Should Oil Pulling Be Done?
Some suggest that oil pulling should be performed in the morning, before your first meal, and prior to brushing your teeth. This is when I usually will do it, as I will swish 1 tablespoon of coconut oil in my oil in my mouth while preparing green tea and making my smoothie. I’ve had some patients tell me that they do oil pulling in the shower while getting ready for work. I suppose you can even do oil pulling while you drive to work, and bring along some type of container to spit the oil in after you’re done.
Although some suggest that oil pulling should be performed before meals, I wonder if doing it after certain meals would be more beneficial. For example, it might be beneficial to do oil pulling after eating fermented foods. The reason for this is because fermented foods such as sauerkraut have Lactobacilli. Lactobacilli are gram-positive, lactic acid bacteria, and they are very important for the health of the gut, along with the urinary system and vaginal tract. However, some Lactobacillus species can cause dental cavities (3), as the lactic acid they produce can corrode the teeth. Because of this, an argument can be made to incorporate oil pulling after eating fermented foods.
How Frequently Should You Do Oil Pulling?
Some sources suggest to do oil pulling daily, and perhaps even multiple times per day. I can’t say that I do oil pulling on a daily basis, as I do it 3 or 4 times per week.
Which Oils Should You Use?
The truth is that you can use any type of oil for oil pulling, but of course it makes sense to use healthier types of oils, along with oils that have been shown in the research to have antimicrobial properties. I’m going to discuss three specific oils:
Coconut oil. Coconut oil contains lauric acid, which has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. In vitro studies have shown coconut oil to be effective against Streptococcus mutans and Candida albicans (4). The monolaurin in coconut oil has been shown to be effective against microorganisms such as Staphlococcus aureus, Candida, Helicobacter pylori, and Enterobacter spp (5).
Olive oil. The constituents of olive oil have antimicrobial, immunomodulatory, and antioxidative effects (5).
Sesame oil. Sesame oil contains sesamin, sesamolin and sesaminol and has detoxification, antioxidant, and antibiotic actions (5).
Health Conditions That Can Benefit From Oil Pulling
While I’m sure you can understand how oil pulling can improve conditions directly related to oral health, it might also benefit other health conditions. Here are some of the different health conditions that can benefit from oil pulling (6):
- Dental caries
- Plaque-induced gingivitis
- Halitosis (bad breath)
- Oral thrush
- Headaches and migraines
- Diabetes mellitus
What The Research Shows
Let’s take a look at a few research studies which show the benefits of oil pulling. You’ll notice that most of these studies focus on oral health benefits.
General antimicrobial effects. One small study compared oil pulling using sesame oil with chlorhexidine mouthwash, and the results showed a statistically significant reduction in the Streptococcus mutans (S. mutans) count in the oil pulling group (7). It’s important to mention that the chlorhexidine mouthwash group had a greater reduction in S. mutans, but of course we also need to consider the chemicals in the mouthwash.
Another study looked to assess the reduction in S. mutans and Lactobacillus species count in the saliva after ten minutes of oil gum massage therapy for three weeks with sesame oil, olive oil, and coconut oil (8). The results of the study showed a significant reduction in mean S. mutans count, Lactobacillus count, plaque scores, and gingival scores.
Halitosis (bad breath). One study evaluated the effect of oil pulling on halitosis and the microorganisms that could be responsible for it (9). Sesame oil was used, and it was compared to chlorhexidine mouthwash. The study showed that oil therapy is equally effective as chlorhexidine on halitosis and reducing the microorganisms associated with halitosis.
Another study compared the efficacy of oil pulling and chlorhexidine in reducing oral malodor and microbes (10). The results showed that oil pulling with sesame oil is as effective as chlorhexidine in reducing oral malodor and microbes causing it.
Plaque-induced gingivitis. One study evaluated the effect of oil pulling with sesame oil on plaque-induced gingivitis (11). The study showed that oil pulling resulted in a reduction in the plaque index, modified gingival scores, and the total colony count of aerobic microorganisms.
Another study evaluated the effect of coconut oil pulling on plaque formation and plaque induced gingivitis (12). There was a statistically significant decrease in the plaque and gingival indices, and thus the authors concluded that oil pulling using coconut oil could be an effective adjuvant procedure in decreasing plaque formation and plaque induced gingivitis.
Can Oil Pulling Benefit Those With Graves’ Disease and Hashimoto’s?
Not surprisingly, there are no studies demonstrating that oil pulling can directly benefit thyroid health, as well as autoimmune thyroid conditions such as Graves’ disease and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. So I can’t say that oil pulling is an essential component of restoring your health back to normal. On the other hand, having good oral health is important for overall optimal health.
In addition, the research shows that proinflammatory cytokines are found in diseased periodontal tissues (13), and some of these same proinflammatory cytokines are a factor in autoimmunity. There is also an increase in Th17 cells in periodontitis (14), and these are also present in autoimmune conditions. And as I mentioned earlier, problems with oral health can have systemic effects. So for example, if someone has an elevated C-reactive protein (CRP) marker, there is always the possibility that their oral health is responsible for this elevation, and if this is the case, then oil pulling may help, depending on the cause. Keep in mind that there are many other factors that can cause an elevated CRP as well.
Doing Oil Pulling With Essential Oils
Although using the oils I mentioned earlier can benefit your oral health, some healthcare practitioners suggest that mixing in essential oils can be of further benefit. Although I couldn’t find any studies showing this, it makes sense when you think about it, as certain essential oils also have antimicrobial properties. So for example, you can mix one drop of tea tree oil with coconut oil. Dr. Eric Zielinski is an expert when it comes to essential oils, and in an article he wrote he suggested adding one drop each of clove, orange, lemon, and peppermint with 1 to 2 tablespoons of coconut oil. In the past I wrote an article on the benefits of Frankincense and myrrh oil, and Dr. Zielinski also mentioned how these can be mixed with essential oils.
Are There Any Risks of Doing Oil Pulling?
If you read the research it seems that oil pulling is very safe, and that there are no risks involved. The only concern I have is whether it possibly can also affect some of the good bacteria in the mouth. In other words, is it possible to overdo it with oil pulling? I’m not sure what the answer is, as it might be fine to do oil pulling once or twice per day, but as I mentioned earlier, I do it 3 or 4 times per week. And perhaps this also is overdoing it, but I’ll add that there is no evidence I’m aware of demonstrating that doing oil pulling on a daily basis can cause any type of oral dysbiosis. I’m sure there is a greater risk of this happening with chemical mouthwashes.
It’s also important to mention that after you oil pull, you don’t want to swallow the oil. The reason for this is because you want to spit out any bacteria or toxins that are in the oil. Of course swallowing the oil isn’t going to kill you, but it’s best to spit it out.
I started doing oil pulling a few years ago, and while I haven’t had any cavities since, because I brush and floss regularly it’s hard to say if the oil pulling has been the primary factor. But based on some of the research I presented it does seem to help reduce some of the harmful microorganisms in the mouth. In addition, oil pulling is easy to do and is inexpensive, and so I do recommend trying to get into the routine of doing this. And of course if anyone has a positive (or negative) experience to share regarding oil pulling please feel free to post a comment below.