What Are the Benefits of Oil Pulling, Really?

The words “oil” and “pulling” do not conjure visions of self-care and health…but when combined, you get a detox fast becoming a go-to among those in-the-know and those getting there…

When said separately, the words “oil” and “pulling” do not conjure visions of self-care and health. In fact, they each sound downright painful and/or bad for you. But when they link up, you get an ancient Ayurvedic detoxing technique that is slowly but surely making its way into the cleanse repertoire of those who are in-the-know (no juice fast required).

So…what is oil pulling?

Simply put, oil pulling is the act of swishing coconut or sesame oil around your mouth for 10-20 minutes every day, then spitting it out. That’s it. Seriously.

And why would I want to do that?

We’ve always been told that brushing, flossing and mouthwash-ing every day would, for the most part, be enough to keep our mouths in tip top shape. But these practices, while definitely beneficial and necessary, only really protect the surfaces in your mouth. When you swish oil around your mouth, it attracts and absorbs undigested and partially digested food particles, dead skin cells, bacteria and parasites that may be lurking undetected by a toothbrush. If you catch and remove this stuff while it’s still in your mouth, it has less chance of making its way further into the body via the bloodstream and lymph system, making for an all-around healthier self (and mouth!).

Some proponents of the practice also believe oil pulling helps to strengthen teeth and gums, reduce bad breath, and whiten those chompers by providing a seriously deep clean. Others oil pull to clear their sinuses and relieve congestion. There’s even been talk that oil pulling can lead to brighter, clearer skin by getting rid of those toxins and bacteria before they can work their way out onto your face. This makes sense if you think about it: bacteria or inflammation in the mouth can compromise the immune system, which means it has to work overtime. An overtaxed immune system will lead to problems elsewhere.

Ok, what’s the right way to do it?

Die-hard oil pullers say the best time to do so it first thing in the morning, pre-breakfast. But you can also do it at night or whenever you’ve got 20 minutes to spare, especially if you’re just getting started.

When you’re ready, prep a tablespoon of your chosen oil, put it in your mouth and get to swishing. Focus on pulling and pushing it through your teeth and around your gums, just like you would with mouthwash. (Don’t do this vigorously! You’ll tire out your jaw.) When the 20 minutes are up — or you just can’t do it anymore — spit the oil into a disposable cup or the trash; the oil can build up in your pipes and lead to clogs, so best to not spit it into the sink or shower.

That’s it! Just be sure not to swallow any of the oil while you’re swishing — it’s filling up with bad stuff you’re trying to remove from your body, not give a first-class ticket to your digestive system. And of course, brush your teeth like normal after to remove any leftovers or residue.

This may sound simple — and it is, in theory — but not everyone is ok with the feeling of warm, viscous oil sloshing around their pie holes for that much time. If you’re not convinced or can’t stand the sensation or don’t have the jaw strength to sustain the practice every day for 10 full minutes, start small. You’re already swishing mouthwash around every night for 60 seconds, right? Just replace your Listerine with coconut oil for a week. Then build up from there. You’ll get to 10 minutes in no time.

And here’s a pro tip: The time goes a lot faster if you’re distracted with something else. While you swish, put away your laundry or pack your lunch or give yourself a pedicure or read a book or take a shower. It’ll be over before you know it, promise.

Remind me again why I should be doing this?

Listen, I’m not going to force you to oil pull. The first time I tried, I made it about 30 seconds before feeling like I needed to retch. But I gave it another chance after the memory had worn off and I started small. Over a couple of weeks, I built up my swishing time and am now a proud member of the 10-minute club. It’s not exactly fun, but it is helping my teeth stay whiter and cleaner, and I haven’t had nearly as many stuffy noses as I usually do.

What’s the worst that could happen if you try it, right? If nothing else, convert your oil pulling coconut oil into a hair mask or face oil or shaving cream. One way or another, you’ll benefit.


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I used to oil pull every day and I think it actually does help. I’ve stopped, but I want to start again!

Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

5 years ago

I do like oil pulling and it definitely helped whiten my teeth, but my dentist told me to do it for a few minutes, once a week max! Apparently it’s not super great for your teeth to do it everyday so be careful.

5 years ago

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5 years ago

My dentist has a group he does with other doctors and dentists where they go through the trends, seeing what really works… Supposedly this does nothing :/