Is Oil-Pulling Your Best Choice for Dental Health?

Ancient folk practice is seeing a burst of interest

coconut oil on a spoon

With endorsements coming from celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow, you might find it tempting to try oil-pulling – an Indian folk practice that is the latest homeopathic craze.

Oil-pulling is swishing a teaspoon of oil in your mouth for 20 minutes every day, then spitting it out. The traditional oil to use is sesame. But many use coconut oil.

Thousands of YouTube videos extol its purported health benefits. A Google news search brings up thousands of stories – many written during the last few weeks.

But the evidence-based bottom line on oil-pulling is this:

  • It can’t substitute for brushing twice daily and flossing.
  • There’s no evidence it cures anything.

A traditional folk remedy

For centuries, people used this practice every day to prevent tooth decay, bad breath, bleeding gums, throat dryness and cracked lips.

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The more enthusiastic proponents of oil-pulling claim it cures everything from a hangover to diabetes or acne.

The evidence

There is some limited evidence that oil-pulling, particularly with coconut oil, could inhibit plaque  formation, says Lyla Blake-Gumbs, MD, of Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Integrative Medicine.

  • Oil-pulling is as effective as rinsing with mouthwash to maintain and improve oral health, a study from 2008 says. The study examined levels of Streptococcus mutans, a bacteria commonly found in the mouth that causes tooth decay.
  • Oil-pulling with sesame oil and mouthwash both reduced gingivitis, says another study from 2009.
  • Oil-pulling could be a preventive home therapy to maintain oral hygiene – especially in developing countries, says a study from 2011. The study said, however, that further research should investigate exactly how oil-pulling works, as well as its long-term effects.

“There is some evidence that oil-pulling could be helpful in reducing the plaque index and the bacterial burden in the mouth,” Dr. Blake-Gumbs says.

It’s important to know, however, that oil-pulling should not take the place of good, consistent dental hygiene, Dr. Blake-Gumbs says. That means brushing twice a day for two minutes and flossing once daily.

No support for other health claims

Oil-pulling is not going to whiten your teeth, clear your sinuses or cure your diabetes, despite what proponents say.

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 “There is no research to corroborate all of these other health claims,” Dr. Blake-Gumbs says.

“You can make the stretch that oral health can support systemic health – that there are benefits downstream,” she says.

“But to date there is no scientific research that oil-pulling is a direct mechanism of action for these other conditions. And no current evidence suggests that improving oral hygiene alone will improve diabetes or other chronic conditions.”

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  • Deb

    Having COPD and Emphysema I use oral inhalers and am on an antibiotic. I rinse my mouth well after using the inhalers but still had a thrush outbreak. I used organic coconut oil and could immediately feel relief in my sinus and it did a great job on curing the thrush. Just be sure to spit in the trash after it will clog your plumbing. I love coconut oil, worked great for me.

  • jj

    I notice increased postnasal drip (drainage in the back of my throat) while I am swishing, and feel a bit “cleared out” afterwards. I believe this is because the contraction of muscles in the swishing action puts my soft palate and maybe other soft tissues in the region in a better position to drain quickly. I’d be curious if any medical professional types think that this might be the source of the claim that oil pulling clears the sinuses.

  • RN01

    I once had an abcess in my mouth, and until I got to a dentist I did oil pulling with coconut oil, and the abcess was pretty much gone by the time I saw the dentist. The coconut oil DOES whiten teeth too, and removes plaque. I don’t know why this article states oil pulling can’t replace brushing your teeth/flossing. I’ve never see anything that said to use oil pulling in place of brushing. It is for other health benefits.

    • Fullerene

      The coconut oil got inside your tooth, killed the bacteria, and brought the dead root back to life? That’s amazing. What CAN’T it do?

      • High_Yellow2


      • AugNoz

        did dr aker infect you with AIDS ?

      • RN01

        Obviously you don’t have the ability to read and understand what someone writes. I simply stated the abscess cleared up by doing oil-pulling UNTIL I GOT TO THE DENTIST. I had an abscess on my gum, not in the root of the tooth.

        • John S.

          Correlation, not causation. You did oil-pulling and the abscess got better. I danced, then it rained.

    • Robin Rosner

      Maybe not enough or any studies to support the claim as yet, and clearly because the DDS community wouldn’t want to see their business fade. Sorry…cynical after years of knowing many bad DDS.

  • Kathy U.

    Just b/c there’s no scientific or evidence-based research doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. It’s a homeopathic remedy and I’ve seen the results for helping to deter allergies and sinus infections, whiten teeth and help heal gingivitis, etc. Perhaps the author of the article should have at least experimented or tried it before writing this article so that they have some basis for what they are talking about.

    • John S.

      There actually is scientific evidence cited in the article. The evidence is fairly thin. The first two studies cited in the article are actually two articles publishing the results of the same study. The underlying study was flawed. It compares oil-pulling to use of chlorohexidine mouthwash. The study group brushed their teeth and used oil pulling. The control group brushed their teeth and used chlorohexidine mouthwash. They should have used a third group as the control group. That group should have only brushed their teeth. Also they only studied one micro organism.

      The third study, also published in a quality pure reviewed journal, concluded that different oils had a beneficial but limited effect. No one oil worked effectively against a broad spectrum of problem microorganisms.

      I would conclude that oil pulling is beneficial, but probably not as effective as using a chlorohexidine mouthwash.

  • rhondarx

    Wonder if children who have a higher incidence of strep could benefit by oil-pulling?

  • Dolly

    Unclear about “oil pulling”…..but take a heaping tsp. of coconut oil aft. breakfast,good for overall health.GREAT hair,skin,nails, I swear it !

  • Margaret

    This always whitens my teeth. I don’t notice any other health benefits beyond my mouth.