What is Oil Pulling? A Dentist Explains

Oil pulling is a traditional practice that might seem unconventional but has been part of ancient Indian tradition through Ayurvedic medicine for centuries. Imagine starting your day not with a cup of coffee or a splash of cold water on your face, but with swishing a tablespoon of oil around in your mouth.

Now, this isn't just any random practice - the most staunch oil pulling practitioners believe it detoxifies your body, specifically targeting your oral health.

The oils typically used, including coconut oil, sesame oil, or sunflower oil, are thought to pull bacteria and toxins from the hard-to-reach areas of your mouth, potentially reducing plaque, minimizing bad breath, and even leading to healthier gums.

You're supposed to do this on an empty stomach before eating for about 15-20 minutes in the morning instead of at night. However, we should note that there isn't much scientific evidence behind the benefits of oil pulling.

Oil pulling isn't a cure-all, and it certainly shouldn't replace your regular oral health routine including brushing, tongue scraping, and flossing. If you're curious, there's little harm in trying it out for yourself, but make sure to keep up with your regular dental care routine to ensure your teeth and gums stay healthy.

In this article, I'll explain everything you need to know about what oil pulling is and whether it's right for you.

So, whats oil pulling?

A woman showing the oil for oil pulling

Oil pulling is a traditional Ayurvedic practice for improving oral hygiene and for spiritual benefits.

It involves swishing oil in your mouth for about 20 minutes to remove bacteria and dislodge buildup between your teeth. Back then, 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, virgin coconut oil is more common now. Any oil, including sunflower oil or olive oil, can be used for oil-pulling therapy, but coconut oil has been popularized due to its high lauric acid content and pleasant taste.

Just remember, to maximize the oral health benefits of oil pulling, we recommend brushing with toothpaste tablets, flossing with expandable floss, and using a tongue scraper daily.

How does oil pulling work?

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 overall health routine.

Benefits of Oil Pulling

A woman practicing 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. Plus, it's gentle enough to do with crowns and fillings.

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.

Bad Breath

By reducing the number of bacterial colonies in your mouth, oil pulling may have some impact to reduce the incidence of halitosis.

Plaque Buildup

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.

Side Effects of Oil Pulling

A woman having tooth ache

Oil pulling is generally considered safe although it may lead to some side effects or dangers in certain individuals.

These side effects can include nausea, upset stomach, or an unpleasant taste in the mouth, especially if you do not spit out the oil properly after swishing. Some people may also experience jaw fatigue or soreness from the prolonged swishing motion required when they practice oil pulling.

Additionally, there have been rare reports of lipoid pneumonia, a condition caused by inhaling small amounts of oil into the lungs, although this risk is extremely low when oil pulling is done correctly.

Let's walk through some of the oil pulling side effects in greater detail.


Swallowing oil during oil pulling can lead to feelings of nausea, particularly if you accidentally ingest a significant amount. This sensation may occur due to the texture or taste of the oil or just from your stomach's reaction to the oil.

To prevent any discomfort, it's crucial to spit out the oil thoroughly after swishing. Further, you can start by swishing with a small amount of oil before gradually progressing to a larger amount of oil and a longer duration of oil pulling. Finally, you can choose to start with a lighter oil that has a milder taste like sunflower oil.

Upset Stomach

Along with nausea, ingesting oil during oil pulling may cause an upset stomach for some people. This discomfort can manifest as abdominal pain, bloating, or indigestion.

To prevent this from happening, make sure that you fully spit out all of the oil after oil pulling and do your best to avoid swallowing it. You can also rinse your mouth out thoroughly with water after oil pulling to remove any residual oil that may otherwise cause stomach discomfort.

Jaw Fatigue or Soreness

Unfortunately, the repetitive swishing motion required during oil pulling can lead to jaw fatigue or soreness, especially if you perform it for an extended period. This discomfort may arise from overuse of the jaw muscles and typically resolves with rest.

Taking breaks or reducing the duration of oil pulling sessions can help alleviate this issue. Additionally, you can try gently massaging the jaw muscles before and after oil pulling to help prevent fatigue and soreness.

Lipoid Pneumonia

In rare cases, inhaling small amounts of oil into the lungs during oil pulling may lead to lipoid pneumonia, a type of pneumonia caused by lipid or oil aspiration., a type of pneumonia caused by lipid or oil aspiration. While the risk is minimal when oil pulling is performed correctly, it's essential to be cautious and avoid inhaling the oil.

To minimize the risk of lipoid pneumonia, you should ensure you're using the proper technique for oil pulling, which involves swishing the oil around your mouth and then spitting it out, rather than inhaling or swallowing it.

Allergic Reactions

Individuals with allergies to certain oils, such as coconut or sesame oil commonly used for oil pulling, may experience allergic reactions. Symptoms can include itching, rash, or swelling of the mouth or throat. If this sounds like you, make sure to choose an oil that you tolerate well and discontinue use if any allergic symptoms occur.

How to do Oil Pulling at Home

An oil for oil pulling and tongue scraper

For how to oil pull effectively, follow these steps:

  1. First choose your oil: Select a high-quality, edible oil such as coconut oil, sesame oil, or sunflower oil. Coconut oil pulling is popular due to its pleasant taste and potential antibacterial properties, but oil pulling with coconut oil isn't the end-all-be-all of this practice.

  2. Measure the oil: Take about 1-2 tablespoons of oil and put it in your mouth.

  3. Swish the oil: Swish the oil around in your mouth for about 15-20 minutes. Be sure to pull the oil through your teeth and around your gums. Avoid gargling or swallowing the oil.

  4. Spit out the oil: After 15-20 minutes, spit the oil out into a trash can or tissue. Don't spit it into the sink as it could solidify and clog your drain over time.

  5. Rinse your mouth: Rinse your mouth thoroughly with warm water or salt water to remove any remaining oil residue.

  6. Don't forget to brush your teeth: Since oil pulling doesn't remineralize teeth, it can't be the only tool in your toolkit. To avoid improper, poor oral hygiene, be sure to follow up with your regular oral hygiene routine, including brushing with toothpaste tablets and flossing.

Repeat this process daily or several times a week for best results. Most people practice oil pulling in the morning before eating instead of at night.

Facts & Fiction About Oil Pulling

When it comes to oil pulling, it's hard to know what's true and what's not. Here are some common misconceptions you should know about.

Fact: Oil Pulling Improves Oral Hygiene

  • Evidence: Some studies indicate oil pulling can reduce bacteria in the mouth, specifically Streptococcus mutans, and decrease plaque formation. This suggests a potential for improving oral hygiene.

  • Context: These benefits are generally considered mild and should complement traditional oral care practices, not replace them.

Fact: Oil Pulling Can Reduce Bad Breath

  • Evidence: Bad breath, or halitosis, often results from bacteria present in the mouth. Oil pulling can help reduce these bacteria, potentially improving your breath.

  • Context: While effective, it's also important to address underlying causes of bad breath, such as tooth decay, with comprehensive dental hygiene and care.

Fiction: Oil Pulling Detoxifies the Body

  • Claim: Oil pulling draws toxins out of the body, improving overall health.

  • Reality: There's no scientific evidence to support the idea that oil pulling can detoxify the body. The concept of "detoxifying" in this manner is not backed by modern medical science. Sorry, folks!

Fiction: Oil Pulling Cures Diseases

  • Claim: Some proponents suggest oil pulling can cure various diseases, including serious conditions like heart disease or diabetes.

  • Reality: There is no credible scientific evidence linking oil pulling to curing systemic diseases. For example, oil pulling does not remineralize teeth, so it therefore cannot reverse cavities. Effective management of these types of conditions typically involves medication, lifestyle changes, and medical interventions.

Fact: Oil Pulling is A Safe Practice When Done Correctly

  • Evidence: For most people, oil pulling is safe when practiced correctly. It involves natural oils and is a non-invasive procedure. Plus, since it's so gentle, you can even oil pull with crowns and fillings.

  • Context: You should make sure you don't swallow the oil, as it contains bacteria pulled from the hard-to-reach places in your mouth. It's also important to continue regular dental hygiene practices.

Fiction: Oil Pulling Replaces Dental Visits

  • Claim: Oil pulling can replace routine dental check-ups and professional care.

  • Reality: While oil pulling may have oral health benefits, it does not substitute for professional dental care. You still need regular check-ups, cleanings, and treatments to maintain oral health.

As you can see, while oil pulling can offer some benefits for oral hygiene and breath freshness, its broader health claims are largely unsupported by scientific evidence and the American Dental Association.

You should view it as a supplementary practice to traditional oral care, not a standalone treatment for dental health issues.

Oil Pulling vs Mouthwash

Oil Pulling vs Mouthwash

In comparing mouthwash vs oil pulling, 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.

Does oil pulling fight bad breath?

Yes, oil pulling can help fight bad breath. Bad breath, or halitosis, is often caused by the presence of bacteria in the mouth.

Oil pulling works by reducing the levels of these bacteria, as the swishing action of the oil can help to remove bacteria, food particles, and other debris from your mouth, potentially reducing bad breath.

Studies have shown that oil pulling with oils like coconut oil can significantly reduce markers of bad breath, making it a useful adjunct to traditional oral hygiene practices like brushing and flossing.

When should you oil pull?

You should oil pull daily on an empty stomach, ideally first thing in the morning before eating or drinking anything. Practitioners generally recommend this timing because it ensures that you are not swishing food particles or debris along with the oil, allowing for a more effective cleaning action.

After oil pulling, you can proceed with your regular oral hygiene routine, such as brushing your teeth and flossing. Remember, oil pulling is meant to complement your oral hygiene practices, not replace them.

That said, if oil pulling immediately after eating is unavoidable for you, you should to wait at least an hour to allow the majority of food particles to clear from your mouth. While oil pulling after eating may not be as effective as doing it on an empty stomach, it can still help remove some bacteria and food debris from the oral cavity.

Other Tips for Great Oral Hygiene

In addition to incorporating tongue scraping into your oral care routine, there are several other tips you can follow to improve your oral health.

Brush With Nano Hydroxyapatite Toothpaste

Brushing with nano hydroxyapatite toothpaste is beneficial for strengthening tooth enamel, remineralization, and preventing and reversing tooth decay.

Nano hydroxyapatite is a natural mineral that makes up the majority of our tooth structure and has been shown to remineralize enamel, making it more resistant to acid attacks from bacteria.

By using toothpaste with nano hydroxyapatite, you can help protect your teeth from decay and maintain a healthy smile.

Use Expanding Floss Daily

Using expanding floss daily is essential for removing plaque and food particles from between your teeth and along the gumline. Expanding floss is designed to expand when it comes into contact with saliva, allowing it to clean more effectively between tight spaces and beneath the gumline.

By flossing daily, you can reduce your risk of demineralization and tooth decay, gum issues, and bad breath.

Avoid Smoking and Consuming Tobacco Products

Avoiding smoking and consuming tobacco products is crucial for maintaining good oral health. Tobacco use can lead to a wide range of dental problems, including stained teeth, bad breath, gum disease, and oral cancer.

Quitting smoking and avoiding other tobacco products can significantly improve your oral health and reduce your risk of developing serious dental issues in the future.

Swap Out Your Toothbrush Every 3 Months

Swapping out your toothbrush every three months is important for maintaining effective oral hygiene. Over time, toothbrush bristles can become worn and frayed, making them less effective at removing plaque and debris from your teeth and gums.

By replacing your toothbrush regularly, you ensure that you're using a tool that can clean your teeth effectively and help prevent oral health problems down the line.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does oil pulling actually do?
Oil pulling is an ancient practice that involves swishing oil, typically coconut or sesame oil, around in your mouth for a period of time, usually around 15-20 minutes. Proponents claim that oil pulling can improve oral health by reducing bacteria, preventing plaque buildup, and promoting healthier gums. However, scientific evidence supporting these claims is limited. While some studies suggest that oil pulling may have some benefits, such as reducing harmful bacteria in the mouth and improving oral hygiene, more research is needed to fully understand its effectiveness. Overall, oil pulling may be used as an adjunct to regular oral hygiene practices, but it should not replace brushing, flossing, or routine dental visits.

Do dentists recommend oil pulling?
Dentists generally do not recommend oil pulling because there is limited scientific evidence to support its effectiveness for improving oral health. While some proponents claim benefits such as reducing harmful bacteria and improving gum health, these claims are not well-supported by research. Additionally, oil pulling is not a substitute for regular oral hygiene practices such as brushing and flossing, which are essential for maintaining good oral health. It's important to consult with your dentist for personalized advice on oral care practices.

What kind of oil do you use for oil pulling?
For oil pulling, you can use various types of edible oils, with coconut oil and sesame oil being the most commonly used. These oils are believed to have antimicrobial properties and are often preferred for their mild taste. However, other oils such as sunflower oil or olive oil can also be used for oil pulling. It's essential to choose a high-quality, edible oil and ensure that it is safe for oral use.

What are the side effects of oil pulling?
While oil pulling is generally safe, some individuals may experience mild side effects such as nausea, upset stomach, jaw fatigue, allergic reactions to specific oils, or dental issues if regular oral hygiene practices are neglected. It's crucial to start with small amounts of oil and gradually increase the duration and frequency of oil pulling to minimize the risk of adverse reactions. If you encounter persistent discomfort or reactions, discontinue oil pulling and consult with a healthcare professional.

Why is oil pulling bad for your teeth?
Oil pulling itself is not inherently bad for your teeth, but it's essential to understand its limitations and potential risks. Oil pulling may not effectively remove plaque and debris from all areas of the mouth, potentially leading to inadequate dental care. Additionally, if used as a substitute for traditional oral hygiene practices like brushing and flossing, it could increase the risk of dental issues over time. Some oils used for oil pulling, such as coconut oil, are high in saturated fats, which may pose health concerns if swallowed regularly. While oil pulling may offer some benefits, it should be used in conjunction with, rather than as a replacement for, established oral hygiene routines recommended by dentists.

Who should avoid oil pulling?
Oil pulling, a traditional oral hygiene practice, may not be suitable for everyone. Individuals with specific dental conditions or sensitivities should consider avoiding it. Pregnant women should also abstain from oil pulling due to limited research on its safety during pregnancy. Similarly, children, especially young ones, should refrain from this practice to avoid the risk of accidental ingestion or choking. It's advisable for pregnant women and parents of young children to consult healthcare professionals before incorporating oil pulling into their oral hygiene routine.

Do I brush my teeth after oil pulling?
You should brush your teeth after oil pulling to ensure that any remaining oil residue is removed and to maintain overall oral hygiene. Brushing after oil pulling helps eliminate bacteria and plaque effectively. Remember to rinse your mouth thoroughly with water before brushing to remove any lingering oil. This sequence helps maximize the benefits of both oil pulling and brushing.

Is it OK to do oil pulling everyday?
It's generally considered safe to do oil pulling every day, but it's important to be mindful of your body's response and any potential side effects. Some people find benefits from oil pulling when done daily, such as improved oral hygiene and fresher breath. However, others may experience mild side effects or discomfort, particularly if they have sensitivities to the oil or if the process causes jaw fatigue. If you choose to do oil pulling daily, start with a small amount of oil and gradually increase the duration and frequency to see how your body responds. If you experience any adverse effects, consider reducing the frequency or discontinuing oil pulling altogether. As always, it's a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional if you have any concerns or underlying health conditions.

How often should you oil pull teeth?
How often you should oil pull your teeth depends on your individual preferences and oral health needs. Some people find benefits from oil pulling daily, while others may prefer to do it a few times a week. It's important to listen to your body and monitor any changes in your oral health or overall well-being. If you're new to oil pulling, you may want to start with a lower frequency and gradually increase as you become more comfortable with the process. Ultimately, there's no one-size-fits-all answer, so it's best to find a frequency that works best for you and your oral hygiene routine.

Swish Mouthwash
Swish Mouthwash
Swish Mouthwash
Swish Mouthwash
Swish Mouthwash
Swish Mouthwash
Swish Mouthwash
Swish Mouthwash
Swish Mouthwash
Swish Mouthwash

Swish Mouthwash

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Shake well before use. Swish approximately one tablespoon of mouthwash in your mouth for about 30 seconds, then spit it out.

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