Mouthwash is the more convenient option, but both oil pulling and mouthwash are common practices for improving your dental hygiene that work by removing bacteria.
While oil pulling requires 20 minutes of vigorous swishing to dislodge bacteria, gargling with alkaline mouthwash and using a tongue scraper can achieve the same results in under one minute.
Therefore, oil pulling may be a less convenient daily practice than other oral health practices.
Regardless of whether you practice oil pulling or use mouthwash, your daily routine should also include tooth brushing and tongue scraping.
Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about oil pulling and how it compares to mouthwash!
What is oil pulling?
Oil pulling is an ancient Ayurvedic practice for improving oral hygiene and for spiritual benefits.
It involves swishing oil around your mouth for about 20 minutes to remove bacteria and dislodge buildup between your teeth.
This process was used to treat bad breath and gum disease and, while less common now, continues to be practiced today for similar benefits.
While oil pulling was originally conducted with sesame and sunflower oil, coconut oil is more common now.
How Oil Pulling Works
Oil pulling works by dislodging harmful bacteria from between your teeth before it has a chance to organize into plaque.
Essentially, the oil helps emulsify the bacteria and debris in your mouth, allowing it to be spit out after ~20 minutes.
Clinical and diagnostic research suggests that this practice supports a healthy oral microbiome.
That being said, it takes about 20 minutes for oil pulling to have a significant impact on your oral hygiene.
Therefore, it is one of the more labor-intensive oral health practices and may not fit into your daily routine.
Benefits of Oil Pulling
Proponents of oil pulling suggest that it has benefits that include:
- Reducing oral bacteria associated with cavities and gingivitis
- Removing plaque buildup along the gumline
- Whitening teeth
- Eliminating bad breath
- Preventing periodontal disease progression
- Lowering risk of tooth decay
These potential benefits largely come from oil pulling’s presumed ability to reduce bacterial load in your mouth.
However, there is no academic consensus on the benefits of oil pulling due to the lack of clinical research.
There is some evidence that oil pulling may reduce the number of bacterial colonies living in your mouth.
However, this is a newly evolving field of research and more evidence is required to fully understand the impact.
By reducing the number of bacterial colonies in your mouth, oil pulling may have some impact to reduce the incidence of halitosis.
Oil pulling is an effective treatment against plaque. In fact, one study found that "both coconut oil and sesame oil can be used for oil-pulling therapy with the aim of plaque regrowth inhibition".
Interestingly, this study also found that this same mechanism had a positive impact on tooth staining as well.
Gingivitis and Inflammation
Preliminary evidence shows that oil pulling may help fight gingivitis by reducing your plaque index. However, it is unclear how significant these results are and whether they can be replicated.
How to Practice Oil Pulling
According to the Ayurvedic tradition, proper oil pulling should be conducted in the morning on an empty stomach.
First, take a tablespoon of coconut oil (or your other preferred oil) and put it in your mouth. Then, swish the oil around for 20 minutes.
You must swish for at least 20 minutes as it takes a large number of passes of the oil between your teeth to fully dislodge bacteria and get the best dental health benefits.
Finally, spit out the oil in your trash can and finish off by brushing your teeth for two minutes.
Tips for Oil Pulling
Oil pulling might seem daunting at first, but here are some tips to get the best results:
- Use organic, cold-pressed coconut or sesame oil for higher quality and taste
- Set a timer to ensure you swish for 20 minutes
- Swish vigorously instead of passively to increase the cleansing effects
- Try swishing side-to-side as well as back and forth
- Don’t use too much oil to prevent it dripping down your throat
- Keep tissues to clean up any oil that spills out of your mouth
Can you oil pull at night?
Yes, you can oil pull at night. You will get the same benefits of oil pulling regardless of the time of day.
If nighttime is the preferred time of day to practice oil pulling therapy, it is best to do it before brushing your teeth.
After you oil pull, brushing your teeth will allow for proper elimination of harmful bacteria for optimal dental health.
Can you oil pull everyday?
Yes, you can oil pull everyday.
However, because oil pulling requires at least 20 minutes to be completed properly, it may not fit into your daily routine.
Can you oil pull with a crown?
Yes, you can oil pull with a dental crown.
Dental crowns are designed to withstand the normal activity of the mouth, including swishing or pulling oil.
In the event that a dental crown becomes loose or falls off, you should seek the care of a dental professional.
Does oil pulling damage fillings?
Coconut oil itself or the act of oil pulling will not damage fillings.
That being said, there are individual reports of people that have damaged fillings as a result of oil pulling but this is unsubstantiated and likely due to other lifestyle factors, such as poor oral hygiene.
Which oil is best for oil pulling?
While sesame seed oil was used in ancient practices, coconut oil pulling is far more common in modern times. Both types of oil are suitable for oil pulling.
Can I use refined coconut oil for oil pulling?
Yes, you can use refined coconut oil for oil pulling. In fact, most of the research on oil pulling benefits was conducted with the use of coconut oil.
What is mouthwash?
Also called mouth rinses, mouthwashes are liquid oral hygiene products designed to kill bacteria and freshen your breath.
General consensus is that there are two main types of mouthwashes:
- Cosmetic mouthwash freshens your breath but does not reduce cavity-causing bacteria or provide other oral benefits
- Therapeutic mouthwash contains safe, medicinal ingredients intended to protect your oral microbiome and fight the germs that cause gingivitis, cavities, and bad breath
To make the most of your oral care routine, it’s best to opt for therapeutic mouthwash.
For best results, you can use mouthwash up to 1-2x daily.
Benefits of Mouthwash
Evidence shows that regularly using a therapeutic mouthwash has benefits such as:
- Inhibiting the formation of plaque and gingivitis
- Treating bad breath by killing odor-causing bacteria
- Supporting the management of gingivitis and periodontitis
- Reducing the risk of cavities by fighting acidity
- Removing stubborn debris from hard-to-reach places in your mouth
That being said, your mouthwash should not replace standard oral care practices like brushing, flossing, and tongue scraping.
Instead, you should use mouthwash as a supplement to bring your oral hygiene to the next level.
Side Effects of Mouthwash
When used as directed, mouthwashes are safe and effective with minimal risks.
However, research shows that some of these side effects can include:
- Tooth and tongue staining from mouthwashes with chlorhexidine
- Tissue irritation from harsh alcohol
- Allergic contact reactions
- Dry mouth or disrupted saliva production
- Nausea from accidental swallowing
To avoid these side effects, try using herbal, therapeutic mouthwashes like Swish which are formulated without harmful chemicals.
How to Use Mouthwash Correctly
To start incorporating mouthwash into your daily oral care routine, follow these steps:
- Floss and brush your teeth with nano hydroxyapatite toothpaste like usual
- Dispense about 20-30mL of mouthwash
- Swish the mouthwash around vigorously in your mouth for 30-60 seconds
- You’re done! Go ahead and spit out the mouthwash
For best results, try using a mouthwash 1-2 times daily after brushing your teeth.
Oil Pulling vs. Mouthwash
Now that we understand the differences between the two, let’s compare them!
While oil pulling relies on the physical swishing motion of your mouth, mouthwashes use active ingredients to directly target bad bacteria.
Oil pulling requires about 20 minutes of vigorous swishing daily to be effective. On the other hand, mouthwash only requires about 30-60 seconds to be effective.
Oil pulling should be the first step in your oral care routine while rinsing with mouthwash should be the last step.
Research & Evidence
There is far more clinical evidence supporting the usage of mouthwash for promoting oral health as compared to oil pulling.
Is oil pulling better than mouthwash?
Based on the convenience factor alone, mouthwash is better than oil pulling for most people.
However, oil pulling with coconut oil or olive oil is an entirely different practice than using mouthwash, so it can be difficult to compare the two.
More research is needed to scientifically validate the benefits of oil pulling beyond anecdotal evidence, but there is a plethora of research supporting the use of mouthwash.
Overall, mouthwash and oil pulling benefits have some overlap but they are two different types of oral hygiene practices that may provide benefits for you personally.
However, it’s important to note that neither oil pulling nor mouthwash can replace flossing or brushing your teeth in your oral care routine.
Summary: does oil pulling work?
Yes, oil pulling does work to help dislodge bacteria and fight plaque buildup.
That being said, oil pulling is not a replacement for brushing and flossing your teeth.
If you are going to practice oil pulling, make sure you use coconut oil (or an equivalent) and swish for at least 20 minutes.
However, if you don’t want to spend 20 minutes swishing oil, you don't have to!
Brushing with fluoride-free toothpaste twice per day, flossing at least three times per week, and using a tongue scraper daily is more than enough.
Finally, you can add in an alkaline mouthwash like Swish to help fight bad breath and bleeding gums.
As previously discussed, the research shows that it's quicker than oil pulling and just as effective, if not more.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is oil pulling good for?
According to Ayurvedic tradition, oil pulling may help reduce oral bacteria and fight plaque buildup. However, more scientific research is needed to validate these claims.
Is oil pulling safe?
Yes, oil pulling is safe when practiced carefully. However, side effects like muscle soreness and jaw fatigue can occur if done excessively.
How long does oil pulling take?
When practiced correctly, oil pulling should be conducted for about 20 minutes to allow for enough passes of the oil between your teeth to thoroughly dislodge bacteria, food, and plaque.
When should you do oil pulling?
According to Ayurvedic tradition, oil pulling should be practiced first thing in the morning on an empty stomach.
Does oil pulling whiten teeth?
While some practitioners claim that oil pulling can help whiten teeth, findings from scientific research are mixed and there is no conclusive evidence that oil pulling whitens teeth.
Is oil pulling FDA approved?
No, the FDA does not approve or regulate oil pulling. Instead, oil pulling is considered a traditional wellness practice.
What is the best oil for oil pulling?
While oil pulling was traditionally practiced with sesame oil, coconut oil is more popular today thanks to its neutral flavor and fatty acid profile. In fact, most studies done on oil pulling use coconut oil.
What are the side effects of oil pulling?
While oil pulling is safe, it can also cause side effects like facial muscle fatigue or headaches if done excessively.
Is oil pulling as effective as mouthwash?
Unfortunately, we do not have enough clinical research demonstrating whether oil pulling has equivalent effective to mouthwash to make a conclusion.
Should I do both oil pulling and use mouthwash?
It may be safe to practice oil pulling and use mouthwash, but more research is needed to fully understand the benefits and risks. Whether you use either or both is a personal decision that should be determined by working with your dentist to construct a healthy oral care routine.