Oil pulling: what is it and what are the benefits?

The VITL Nutrition Team / Oct 24, 2016

A key element of Ayurvedic medicine, dating back over 3,000 years, oil pulling involves swishing a tablespoon of a chosen cold-pressed oil (we recommend coconut oil) around in your mouth for 10-20 minutes.


The oil is thought to act like a magnet, sticking to the cell walls of the bacteria that is hidden between teeth, on gums and in crevices in the mouth. The oil sweeps up large amounts of bacteria in your mouth giving it a deep-clean. The movement of the oil over the teeth is also thought to break up plaque making it easier to remove when you brush and floss your teeth.

To start, use a smaller quantity of coconut oil, say a teaspoon, and swill it around for 5 minutes. You can then slowly increase the time as your jaw gets used to it and you get used to the feeling. You can then work up to oil pulling with a couple of teaspoons for about 20 minutes for maximum effect. After swilling, spit out the oil (taking all the nasty bacteria with it) and rinse your mouth with water. For the ultimate antimicrobial experience rinse with salt water.

Oil pulling leads to a wide range of benefits including:

  • Reduced tooth decay and loss - The primary cause of tooth decay is bacteria. It has been proven oil pulling reduces the bacteria count in plaque and saliva as much as using mouthwash does (1) due to the magnetic properties of oil towards bacteria, sweeping lots of them up. Coconut oil also contains a component called lauric acid which has antimicrobial properties, therefore the number of bacteria in your mouth is reduced further which reduces the chance of tooth decay even more.
  • Improved bad breath - One study showed that after 14 days of oil pulling unpleasant breath odor is reduced as much as using mouthwash (2). This is thought to be due to the reduction in bacteria in the mouth which emit foul-smelling sulfur compounds which are a major cause of bad breath.
  • Reduced gum disease - In the early stage of gingivitis, bacteria in plaque build up, causing the gums to become inflamed and to easily bleed during tooth brushing (3). Oil pulling reduces the amount of this bacteria and breaks up their home, plaque. Coconut oil also has anti-inflammatory properties which can help soothe inflamed gums.
  • Whiter teeth - removing the plaque and bacteria from your teeth helps to eliminate the stains on your teeth leaving them white and gleaming.
  • Healed cracked lips - coconut oil is extremely moisturizing and therefore when it’s being swilled around in your mouth some reaches your lips and deeply moisturizes them reducing and preventing cracks that can form.

The benefits of swishing coconut oil around in your mouth don’t end here. Although not scientifically proven, many oil-pulling fans have reported clearer skin, better sleep, reduced mouth ulcers, reduced headaches as well as increased energy.


1. Asokan, S., Rathan, J., Muthu, M. S., Rathna, P. V., & Emmadi, P. (2008). Effect of oil pulling on Streptococcus mutans count in plaque and saliva using Dentocult SM Strip mutans test: A randomized, controlled, triple-blind study. Journal of Indian Society of Pedodontics and Preventive Dentistry, 26(1), 12.

2. Asokan, S., Kumar, R. S., Emmadi, P., Raghuraman, R., & Sivakumar, N. (2011). Effect of oil pulling on halitosis and microorganisms causing halitosis: A randomized controlled pilot trial. Journal of Indian Society of Pedodontics and Preventive Dentistry, 29(2), 90.

3. Asokan, S., Emmadi, P., & Chamundeswari, R. (2009). Effect of oil pulling on plaque induced gingivitis: A randomized, controlled, triple-blind study. Indian Journal of Dental Research, 20(1), 47.