When it comes to the history of our species’ dental care, there have been many different approaches tested and tried by people the world over. For thousands of years we have been experimenting, trial and error styles. From the Native American Indians who used to chew on sticks of cinnamon and certain twigs from herbal trees (most notably sage and gingseng) to Aryuvedic sages who would swirl and swish various oils around in their mouths to detoxify and get rid of unwanted bacteria, moulds and fungi from their mouth.

Ok, whenever health fads start reaching Hollywood proportions – you have to stop and reassess the validity of the claims. But when it comes to oil-pulling, you may just be allowed to “believe the hype”.

The Indian sages used to do it, so do many mainstream celebrities and even some mainstream dentists. But what is really behind the age-old concept of swishing oil around our mouths with fancy oils? Let's take a look shall we..

One thing’s for certain, oil-pulling should not be a substitute for regular dental/oral health procedures – but should be viewed as more of an add-on to existing routines. Think about it, it’s not as difficult as using dental floss or perhaps even brushing your teeth – there’s no mechanical aspect, no amount of practice required to get it right or even proper instructions – like it is with brushing your teeth (where you need a degree in dentistry)

What does mainstream science say?

It appears the jury is still out on this one. Some dentists swear by it and others are not convinced. But one thing is for sure; all agree that if it is used, it should be an add-on to existing dental health processes and not a substitute.

There have been a handful of pretty decent clinical trials conducted in the past – ones that measured impact of oil pulling on a variety of dental health parametres such as overall oral cleanliness as well as the impact on certain species of oral bacteria that thrive in unclean conditions.

Clinical trials have shown that using coconut oil was as effective as standard brands of mouthwash  at reducing the number of overall bacteria, reducing incidence rate of gingivitis and also at reducing halitosis (or bad breath) over a period of ten days. Multiple clinical studies have confirmed this.

What oils to use?

It appears the most effective oils to date from clinical trial experimentation are sesame and coconut oil. Both oils are known to have antibacterial properties. Nearly half of the fat content in coconut oil is made up of lauric acid – which is known to be a broad spectrum anti-microbial (i.e. it can kill off bacteria, viruses as well as fungi).

Historically the Indian sages also used sunflower oil.

How to “oil pull” the right way

I guess there’s no right nor wrong way to do this, there’s no real ‘technique’ like with brushing teeth or using floss. The mechanics are fairly simple.

So here’s a fairly simplistic how-to guide:

  • Start out by getting about a tablespoon of coconut oil and putting it in your mouth (yum!). Savour the taste and really focus on the benefit.
  • Chew on it so it becomes more liquid (as coconut oil is a solid at room temperature) and then swish and swirl this concoction around your mouth for about 10-20 minutes (yes, 20 minutes appears excessive but anecdotal evidence believes this is the most effective).
  • Really swirl it around and try to get it between the gaps in your teeth – to get the lauric acid where it needs to go
  • Once you‘ve finished the swirling (maybe settle for 15 minutes as a healthy median), spit out all of the oil (to get rid of all the nasties that have been dislodged by the incessant swishing), and then brush teeth the usual way.

When should I do it?

First thing upon waking is a good idea. Keep the coconut oil container next to your bed and then when you wake up, put the coconut oil in, and set the alarm on snooze (obviously you don’t have to do this). Another great way to do the oil pulling is in the shower or when you’re preparing breakfast, meditating or just chilling in a relaxed state of mind.

In summary, what oil you use is up to you. Coconut oil probably tastes the best but that can vary due to individual taste differences. Just see it as an experiment and give it a go for ten days!

We would love to hear any feedback that you may have from your experience.

Ultimately oil pulling can be a fun family activity – you can try talking to each other (always good for a laugh) or just get a kick out of reminding each other about the actual process. “Have you done your oil pulling yet today?”

As for the whole talking with a mouth full spiel, maybe you can just sit in silence and meditate on what is happening in your mouth. Mornings are such a precious time – sometimes it is good to spend some of the time (especially right upon wakening) in complete silence, just to let your mind and body get adjusted to having left the dream scape and getting accustomed to the day ahead.

Enjoy the pulling everyone!



by Christopher von Roy BSc, MSc, DCP Immunology





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