Oil pulling

Does Oil Pulling Work? We Checked Out the Science

Does Oil Pulling Work? We Checked Out the Science

Oil pulling


Oil pulling is a practice that has recently seen much attention online. But does oil pulling work? We looked at the scientific research to find out whether the practice of oil pulling is effective at achieving the common claims. But first, what exactly is oil pulling?


What is Oil Pulling?

Oil pulling began as an ancient Ayurvedic treatment that dates back about 3,000 – 5,000 years (1). The practice involves swishing oil around the mouth and “pulling” it through the teeth, preferably first thing in the morning. Oils used are usually coconut, sunflower, sesame or olive oil. Swishing should happen for up to 20 minutes. The oil is then discarded.


What Does Oil Pulling Claim to Do?

Originally oil pulling was thought to cure various diseases, including migraines and asthma. However, the effectiveness has not been scientifically tested and oil pulling is not currently recommended as a replacement for evidence based approaches.

More recently, the focus of oil pulling has been on oral health and hygiene benefits. Some claim that oil pulling reduces halitosis (bad breath), whitens teeth and reduces dental erosion. But does it actually work?


Does Oil Pulling Work?

Bad Breath

Some studies show that oil pulling works as well as chlorhexidine mouthwash at reducing bad breath (2,3). Since culinary oil is significantly cheaper than mouthwash. Therefore, replacing chlorhexidine with coconut oil might seem like a great idea. However, a recent study included a third variable in their trial (3). The third variable was a placebo made from coloured water to look like mouthwash. The water was just as effective as the oil and mouthwash at reducing bad breath. This indicates that simply swishing a non-sugary liquid around the mouth effectively reduces bad breath. And water is even cheaper than culinary oil!


Teeth Whitening

Numerous websites offer personal testimonials from people claiming that oil pulling whitens their teeth. Until recently, there were no known scientific studies testing the claim. However, two dental professionals recently put the claims to the test by performing teeth whitening with coconut oil, sesame oil and sunflower oil on extracted human teeth (4). After two weeks, there was no significant difference in the colour of the teeth. On the other hand, some professional whitening and over-the-counter whitening products have been shown to whiten teeth effectively (4).


Dental Erosion

Our body naturally protects our teeth from erosion by forming a layer of proteins and fats from our saliva. Without this protective layer, demineralisation of the teeth happens within only a few minutes due to acid attacks from our food and drink. So, what happens to the natural protective layer if we swish oil around in our mouth? It seems that the protective layer is negatively affected by the oil swishing (5). This is shown by signs of its depletion when examined under a microscope following the oil pulling. Therefore, oil pulling does not appear to be effective in preventing dental erosion and may even contribute to the deterioration of the teeth.


Our Recommendation

We definitely do not recommend oil pulling to our patients as a replacement for brushing and flossing. There is no evidence that oil pulling works better than water or mouthwash to reduce bad breath. Additionally, oil pulling does not appear to whiten the teeth .In fact, it may contribute to dental erosion as the natural protective layer of the teeth can be affected by the practice. We also don’t recommend oil pulling as a complementary treatment for these reasons.


To learn more about the effects of lifestyle habits on your teeth read Can the Fruit in Sugar Damage my Teeth? and to learn more about alternative oral health read Strawberries, Charcoal and Other Natural Tooth Whitening Suggestions…. What Really Works?

To book an appointment with our team at Ethical Dental call 6652 3185 or book online.


(1). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5654187/

(2) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21911944/

(3) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25584309/

(4) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25279797/ 

(5) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22813924/


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