What Is Oil Pulling?

Oil pulling is an ancient way of cleaning and whitening your teeth

Oil pulling is the practice of swishing a type of edible oil around in your mouth to clean and whiten your teeth. According to Ayurvedic medicine, an ancient practice with its roots in India, oil pulling helps to whiten your teeth. It also contributes to overall health, Ayurvedic practitioners say. 

Performing oil pulling is simple—you just put a tablespoon or so of oil into your mouth, and move it around. To get the benefits, you need to keep the oil moving around your mouth for a long time—five to 20 minutes each day. According to Ayurvedic practices, that gives the oil enough time to draw out toxins and leave your mouth clean.

Woman in dental chair
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Oil Pulling Benefits

Oil pulling dates back to a time before tooth brushing. It was believed to help remove plaque from teeth and boost the health of teeth, tongue, and gums. Other suggested benefits of oil pulling include:

  • Kills harmful bacteria in your mouth
  • Reduces plaque
  • May help prevent tooth decay
  • Improves bad breath
  • May improve gum health

According to Ayurvedic medicine, oil pulling also helps with overall health by clearing toxins from the body. Ayurvedic practitioners believe that oil pulling can clear the sinuses, reduce headaches, and reduce inflammation in the body. Inflammation has been linked to a variety of illnesses, from arthritis to heart disease.

Modern science hasn’t yet proven any impact of oil pulling on overall health, but it’s likely that giving oil pulling a try won’t hurt your overall health either.

How to Do Oil Pulling

When oil pulling, you should use a high-quality, edible oil. Sunflower oil, coconut oil, and sesame oil are all common types. Start by dropping a tablespoon of oil into your mouth. Then, swish it around.

There’s no right or wrong way to oil pull, but you should focus on moving the oil around as much as possible. Swish it from side-to-side and force it through your teeth. 

The key is to keep oil pulling long enough to get the benefit. Start by oil pulling for five minutes, then gradually increase your time as you get used to the feeling.

As you swish the oil around your mouth, it picks up other liquids and air, which makes the oil’s volume increase as you pull. That causes many people to feel like they have to spit before they’re done oil pulling. If that happens to you, spit a small amount of oil into the trash (so it doesn’t clog your sink) and then keep pulling. 

With time, you can work your way up to a longer session of oil pulling. When you finish, spit the oil into the trash. It will appear frothy and white after so long being swished around. Brush your teeth to get off any remaining toxins or oil, and you’re ready for the day.

What Modern Dentists Say

The American Dental Association does not endorse oil pulling for oral health. In a position statement, the ADA said that there’s no credible science showing that oil pulling is a way to reduce plaque or lessen your likelihood of cavities. However, that one small study from India indicates that oil pulling might combat plaque buildup.

The best way to maintain a healthy mouth, according to the ADA, is to brush twice a day with toothpaste that contains fluoride. You should brush for two minutes at a time, and floss (clean between your teeth) at least once a day. Avoiding tobacco is also important for oral and overall health, the ADA says. 

Modern science has established a link between oral health and overall health. The condition that causes tooth decay, periodontitis, is linked with other health conditions like cardiovascular disease and pneumonia.

So, there very well may be merit to the ancient Ayurvedic idea that caring for your teeth—including with oil pulling—can improve your overall health.

Possible Side Effects

With oil pulling, you’re putting edible oil into your mouth. So, there shouldn’t be any ill health effects. However, according to traditional Ayurvedic medicine, it’s important not to swallow the oil, since it’s thought to contain toxins and bacteria from your mouth. Instead, spit the oil into the trash, and then brush your teeth.

A Word From Verywell

In recent years, more and more people in the West have shown an interest in traditional medical practices. Although there’s little modern evidence that oil pulling improves oral and overall health, it has been used for millennia, and some people believe that’s proof enough. Plus, it’s not likely to have any ill effects on your health.

If you want to give oil pulling a try, do it while also brushing your teeth twice per day. That way, you’re getting the best of both worlds—a modern, scientifically-proven approach to dentistry, and an ancient ritual that could impact your health too. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the best oil for oil pulling?

    While you can use any high-quality cooking oil, coconut oil is usually recommended. Virgin coconut oil has antimicrobial properties that fight bacteria, viruses, and fungi. This gives coconut oil a healing edge over other types of oil. 

  • Can oil pulling damage teeth?

    No. In fact, oil pulling is often used to remove plaque from teeth and boost oral health. Research has shown oil pulling helps to reduce plaque.

  • Should you brush your teeth before or after oil pulling?

    You should brush your teeth after oil pulling. This will help to remove any remaining toxins or oil. 

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Daya S. Ayurvedic basics of oil pulling. The 100 Year Lifestyle. May 21, 2020.

  2. Gujar R. What are the different types of oils for pulling. Sabka Dentist. May 5, 2020.

  3. American Dental Association’s Mouth Healthy. Oil pulling.

  4. Asokan S, Emmadi P, Chamundeswari R. Effect of oil pulling on plaque induced gingivitis: a randomized, controlled, triple-blind study. Indian J Dent Res. 2009;20(1):47-51. doi:10.4103/0970-9290.49067

  5. American Dental Association. Policy statement on untraditional dentistry.

  6. Shilling M, Matt L, Rubin E, et al. Antimicrobial effects of virgin coconut oil and its medium-chain fatty acids on Clostridium difficile. J Med Food. 2013;16(12):1079-85. doi 10.1089/jmf.2012.0303.

By Kelly Burch
Kelly Burch is has written about health topics for more than a decade. Her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, and more.