Oil Pulling: The Natural Way To Whiter, Healthier Teeth?

Photo of Esme Benjamin
Wellness Editor25 January 2017

Oil pulling advocates are swapping Listerine for coconut oil, claiming it makes their teeth whiter and less cavity-prone, naturally. Hailing from India, this mouth cleansing practice is rooted in the ancient holistic health system, Ayurveda, but to date there have been few studies into its effectiveness. Still, swilling daily with coconut oil might just be worth your time.

Here’s how it works: You spoon a dollop of solid coconut oil into your mouth and wait for it to melt. Once liquidy, swish it through your teeth and over your tongue for 20 minutes, during which the bacteria in your mouth bind to the fat in the oil. How you pass the time is up to you; take a shower, prep your lunch, style your hair, and once the allotted time has lapsed spit the bacteria-laden oil into the trash to prevent it re-solidifying and messing with your plumbing. Do this every day and within a few weeks some pretty impressive benefits should supposedly manifest.

The list is bold and encompasses everything from whiter teeth to a strengthened immune system. Some of these are based on the innate health enhancing qualities of the coconut, which is high in lauric acid, a saturated fatty acid that’s antimicrobial and inhibits strep mutans — bacteria that cause tooth decay.

To date there haven’t been enough studies on oil pulling to conclusively prove it’s worth 20 minutes of your time every day — two minutes of brushing twice daily is still the recommendation from the American Dental Association. But its effectiveness at picking up tricky-to-reach bacteria from every crevice of the mouth seems clear. Reducing the amount of bad microbes, therefore boosting oral health in general, has knock-on effects throughout the body, from aiding skin conditions like acne to preventing heart disease.

Since the balance of good and bad bacteria in our bodies is integral to good gut health, it follows that oil pulling’s systemic improvements also extend to improved digestion.

“Our mouth is directly linked to our digestive system. It releases digestive enzymes every time we put something into it, including nourishing oils like coconut or sesame,” explains Valdet Dimiri, Ayurvedic practitioner and co-founder of Aroma Veda.

“Modern science is now suggesting we are 90% microbes and 10% human cells. The thing we want to really take care of is making sure we keep more of the good guys than the bad guys when it comes to bacteria. Ayurveda has understood this for thousands of years and teaches us the importance of oil pulling as it relates to digestive health.”

While it’s not advisable to use oil pulling as a substitute for regular, thorough brushing, it does appear to have some great benefits as an addition to your oral health routine. As with all things in life, wherever you direct your attention and effort improvement is sure to follow.

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