Coconut Oil Pulling: How This Ancient Ayurvedic Technique Can Improve Tooth And Gum Health

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Coconut oil has long been celebrated for its health-boosting properties and versatility and most people are well aware of coconut oil’s role in cooking, skincare, haircare and more.

Few, however, are aware of coconut oil’s ability to improve dental hygiene and prevent oral disease.

Enter, coconut oil pulling; an ancient Ayurvedic practice originating in India that has gained modern popularity in promoting oral health

In this article, we’ll explore:

  • What Is Coconut Oil Pulling?
  • Why Coconut Oil?
  • 3 Oil Pulling Benefits
  • 2 Oil Pulling Misconceptions
  • How To Oil Pull

So with no further ado, let’s explore the truth, the science, and the myths surrounding this Ayurvedic dental technique.

a woman holding a coconut shell with a yellow background

What is oil pulling?

For centuries, Ayurvedic medicine has used coconut oil as a means to eliminate harmful microbes and bacteria in the mouth through a process called ‘oil pulling’.

In India, where this procedure originated, there are 2 distinct oil pulling procedures: Kavala Graha and Gandusha.

To perform Kavala Graha, you hold a medium amount of oil in the mouth for 3 minutes before gargling and then releasing. Gandusha involves filling the mouth completely with oil. The oil is held in the mouth for up to 5 minutes and then released. There is no swilling or swishing involved.

In contrast, the modern oil pulling process involves swilling a tablespoon of coconut oil in the mouth and around the teeth and gums for 15-20 minutes. Think of it as an alternative, natural source of mouthwash.

One of the biggest complaints from beginners is the time it takes. However, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to incorporate into your daily routine.

For instance, you can use the 20 minutes to multitask around your home whilst you swill. Nothing says a productive morning quite like improving your dental hygiene whilst unloading the dishwasher, checking your emails, and vacuuming the house! Before you know it, 20 minutes will be over.

coconut oil on a wooden spoon

Why coconut oil?

In ancient times, oil pulling typically involved sunflower or sesame oil. Today, coconut oil has become the most popular oil used for this purpose. 

Coconut oil is one of the world’s richest plant-based sources of saturated fat, hence its popular role in cooking and moisturizing. However, these fatty acids are also believed to have powerful, lesser-known antibacterial properties.

Coconut oil is an easily available edible oil. It is unique because it contains predominantly medium chain fatty acids of which almost 50% is lauric acid. Lauric acid also has proven anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects. 

What makes coconut oil even better suited to oil pulling is that it is relatively affordable. Chances are you already have some coconut oil knocking around in your cupboards, but if not, it retails between 5 to 15 dollars. While there are many varieties to choose from, most people prefer to use extra-virgin coconut oil due to its better taste and limited processing.

3 Benefits of oil pulling

Coconut oil is natural, edible, safe, absorbable, and has a whole host of recognized health benefits, including reducing gum inflammation and fighting harmful oral diseases.

Here are 3 major ways by which coconut oil pulling promotes improved dental health:

a class jar with coconut oil in with coconut in the background

#1 Removes harmful bacteria

Coconut oil pulling is said to significantly reduce the number of harmful bacteria in your mouth such as Streptococcus mutans – one of the most common types of bacteria found in your mouth that leads to the build up of plaque and tooth decay.

This theory is well backed-up by science. In 2016, scientists conducted a controlled study involving 60 subjects with the aim of evaluating the effect of oil pulling on the count of Streptococcus mutans in saliva.

After finding a statistically significant reduction in the bacteria, they concluded that oil pulling can be explored as a safe and effective alternative to Chlorhexidine – the main ingredient found in commercial mouthwash. In contrast to coconut oil’s lack of harmful side effects, chlorhexidine can cause canker sores, xerostomia (dry mouth), pain whilst using and tooth staining.

These findings are supported by another study which found that coconut oil pulling is just as effective at reducing harmful bacteria as mouthwash, without any of the harmful side effects.

coconut oil in a bowl and on a spoon ready for coconut oil pulling

#2 Fights gum disease

Coconut oil pulling is also linked to reducing plaque and fighting against Gingivitus – more commonly known as gum disease. This disease is associated with poor oral hygiene and occurs when your immune system attacks bacteria in the plaque, leading to inflamed gums, bleeding and other symptoms.

Since coconut oil contains high amounts of lauric acid (a proven anti inflammatory and antimicrobial) several pilot studies have tested coconut oil’s effect on plaque induced gingivitis. 

For example, one study involving 60 boys and girls between 16-18 years old with plaque induced gingivitis found a significant decrease in plaque and gingival indices after 7 days of oil pulling.

These findings are in line with a controlled study conducted in 2020, which reported significant reductions in plaque and gum bleeding after 30 days of oil pulling. Another study conducted in 2017 revealed similar findings.

However, it’s important to note that the majority of studies on coconut oil and gingivitis have involved a small sample population. More research is necessary and larger, randomized and controlled clinical trials are crucial.

coconut with a jar of coconut oil

#3 Prevents bad breath

Last but by no means least, oil pulling has been linked to improving halitosis – otherwise known as bad breath.

Scientists estimate that 85% of bad breath can be attributed to poor oral hygiene. For instance, gum disease, plaque build up, tooth decay and food debris coating the teeth, inner cheeks and tongue can all lead to unpleasant breath.

There is some evidence to suggest that oil pulling can, by removing harmful bacteria and preventing plaque build up, improve halitosis.

For instance, a study involving 20 young people found that oil pulling with sesame oil significantly reduced bad breath markers and self-assessment reports. They further concluded that oil pulling was equally as effective as chlorhexidine mouthwash in improving mouth odour.

However, no trails have yet tested the effects of coconut oil pulling in preventing halitosis, thus indicating a need for further research. However, the high lauric acid content of coconut oil suggests that it would work similarly to sesame oil, if not better.

coconut oil in a coconut bowl

2 oil pulling Misconceptions

Whilst coconut oil pulling has a large number of oral health boosting properties that are backed by science, the technique also comes with a handful misconceptions.

Let’s clear these up!

#1 Whitens teeth

Despite anecdotal evidence suggesting that coconut oil pulling may whiten teeth, there is no scientific evidence to confirm so.

However, there is very little risk in trying to whiten the teeth in this way, since coconut oil doesn’t bleach teeth in the way that whitening strips and LED whitening home kits do.

Bleaching refers to the process of color pigment being lifted from the tooth as a result of a chemical reaction involving hydrogen and carbamide peroxide. Risks of this process include worsened tooth sensitivity, enamel erosion, and cavities.

In contrast, all coconut does is remove the soft player of plaque coating your teeth, temporarily making them look and feel cleaner.

a woman smiling and pointing at her teeth

#2 Can replace brushing

Hold up!

Whilst coconut oil pulling can be a powerful addition to current your dental routine, it should certainly not replace it. It is still important to brush and floss your teeth with fluoride toothpaste twice a day and visit your dentist for regular check-ups.

What coconut oil pulling can arguably replace, however, is a chlorhexidine mouthwash.

How to oil pull in 4 steps

All you need to participate in this ancient practice is a tub of coconut oil, a tablespoon, and a healthy dollop of patience.

It’s best to oil swill early morning before eating or drinking (with the exception of water).

So, here’s how to do it:

Step 1

Put a tablespoon of coconut oil in your mouth. It will likely be in a hard state, so wait for it to melt.

Step 2

Swill the melted oil between your teeth and around your gums and cheeks, just as you would with mouthwash. Do this for 15-20 minutes for best results, all the while sitting upright and breathing through your nose.

Complete errands around the house as you swish, or simply relax and enjoy the process.

It’s important to note that you should never swallow the oil because you’re then ingesting the harmful bacteria extracted by the oil, rendering the whole process somewhat pointless.

Step 3

Spit out the oil into a bin. Don’t spit the oil into the sink or toilet because the oil can block pipes when it rehardens.

Step 4

Brush your teeth thoroughly. Some people recommend having 2 toothbrushes – one for normal brushing and one for removing coconut oil residue.

final thoughts

To conclude, coconut oil pulling is a simple, affordable, and generally safe to improve your dental health. The technique is most effective when used as a supplemental treatment to regular oral hygiene. 

Dosha Quiz | Discover My Ayurvedic Body Type

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Knowing your dosha can provide a window into your inner world. 

Whether Vata, Pitta, or Kapha, or a combination of all three, you'll receive tailored information on your unique dosha composition at the end of the quiz. 

Answer each question instinctively, try not to overthink! 

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Lola is an Ayurveda practitioner based in London with a passion for yoga, nature and people.

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