Oil Pulling: The New Mouthwash?


Our oral health is known to be the gateway to our general health; helping to recognise yet also reduce the occurrence of chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. In modern society, people are continually drawn towards traditional medical practices. These practices commonly uphold a mysterious repute, surrounding their ability to sustain one’s health and well-being- an enlightening example of this is the practice of oil pulling.

What Is oil pulling?

Oil pulling originates in Ayurveda ancestry (Ayurveda is a system of medicine with historical roots in the Indian subcontinent). Oil pulling was commonly used in India as a healing practice to prevent bleeding gums, decay, but also as a biochemical tool for the realignment of craniofacial features1. Today, oil pulling is a popular technique used throughout the world. It involves circulating oil- such as coconut oil- around the mouth. To most people, this method may sound unexplainable and bizarre, however there are several research studies which suggest that oil pulling is a remarkable contributing factor to the reduction of harmful bacteria in the oral cavity. Although this process is not yet used in dental practices, and has only recently been reintroduced to society, there seems to be promise for this primeval yet unconventional treatment.

So how does oil pulling actually work?

On average, there are around 1000 to 10000 bacteria living on each surface of our teeth. Oil pulling helps to attack these harmful bacteria. The oil attracts the lipid layer of bacterial cell membranes, which results in adhesion between the fatty layer of the bacteria and the oil. As the oil is circulated around the mouth, it coats the teeth and gingiva (the gums), which inhibits plaque formation- otherwise known as the sticky deposit of bacteria that covers our teeth. This process enables the plaque building bacteria responsible for dental caries (decay), gingivitis (inflammation of the gums), periodontitis (gum disease), and bad breath to be removed from the oral cavity2.

The two oil pulling techniques that coincide throughout history are Kavala and Gandusa. For Kavala, you swirl the oil in your mouth for a maximum of three to four minutes before spitting it out. This should be repeated at least two or three times. Alternatively, the Gandusa technique involves holding the liquid in the mouth for three to five minutes, spitting it out and then repeating the process3.

What are the benefits of oil pulling for our oral health?

There are many health benefits that oil pulling seems to have on our oral health- the main one being its ability to reduce the number of harmful bacteria in the mouth. One study investigated the antibacterial efficacy of coconut oil compared to mouthwash, against Streptococcus mutans – the most common organism causing dental caries4. The study found that coconut oil is as effective as the chlorohexidine mouthwash in the reduction of S. mutans. Furthermore, oil pulling has been shown to reduce the occurrence of plaque and gingivitis. A study conducted by Asokan S et al (2009) endorsed similar results, when sesame oil was compared to the efficacy of chlorohexidine mouthwash in 20 adolescent boys5. Both oil pulling and mouthwash were effective against gingivitis. In fact, the oil pulling therapy showed a reduction in its plaque index. Bad breath, also known as halitosis, is also a misconceived dental conundrum in society today. It is caused by the smell of chemicals and gases produced by bacteria in your mouth. Another study in 20 adolescent boys provided some evidence that sesame oil reduces bad breath6. Therefore, it is clear that oil pulling can have many significant effects on our oral health, particularly in ways we may have never imagined before.

What are some common misconceptions about oil pulling?

Although oil pulling has many revolutionary effects on our oral health, it is important to be aware of the common misconceptions that surround this alluring revolution. For example, whilst oil pulling does initiate analogous results in the oral cavity when compared to mouthwash, this definitely does not mean that it is a substitute. As a result, we must keep in mind that we should not neglect normal oral hygiene practices such as bushing our teeth for two minutes twice a day, as well as flossing regularly- these two legitimate practices are heavily reinforced by dental professionals. Furthermore, another common fallacy about oil pulling is that it can whiten our teeth. Unfortunately, this is not true5. As a society, the idealised aesthetic appeal of our teeth should not compromise its health, therefore we should only use oil pulling to maintain our oral health, instead of using it to improve the appearance of our teeth. Moreover, some people believe that oil pulling draws toxins from the blood, however there is no evidence to support this.

These misunderstandings do not mean that we should eradicate the use of oil pulling, however, it certainly does reinforce the notion that oil pulling should not be used in solitude- this is because there is not enough extensive research to support the use of oil pulling as an individual oral hygiene practice.

Nevertheless, although it is clear that oil pulling is not yet parallel to the use of mouthwash, it could possibly be the golden ticket that paves the way towards the future of preventative dentistry. And perhaps, as lock down passes, oil pulling could be the new phenomenon you try out, whilst spending more time at home.


  1. Alina Bradford “Oil Pulling: Benefits and Side Effects” (2015) [online] Available at: https://www.livescience.com/50896-oil-pulling-facts.html#:~:text=Oil%20pulling%20originated%20in%20India,3%2C000%20to%205%2C000%20years%20ago. [Accessed 10 July 2020]
  2. “The Truth About Oil Pulling” (2016) [online] Available at: https://www.123dentist.com/truth-oil-pulling/ [Accessed 10 July 2020]
  3. Sara Cheshire “Does Oil Pulling Work?” (2014) [online] Available at: https://edition.cnn.com/2014/08/06/health/oil-pulling/index.html [Accessed 10 July 2020]
  4. “Comparison of antibacterial efficacy of coconut oil and chlorhexidine on Streptococcus mutans: An : An in vivo study study.” (2016) [online] Available at: http://www.jispcd.org/text.asp?2016/6/5/447/192934[Accessed 10 July 2020]
  5. Kris Gunnars “Oil Pulling With Coconut Oil Can Transform Your Dental Health” (2018) [online] Available at: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/oil-pulling-coconut-oil#section1 [Accessed 10 July 2020]
  6. J Indian Soc Pedod Prev Dent. Effect of Oil Pulling on Halitosis and Microorganisms Causing Halitosis: A Randomized Controlled Pilot Trial (2011) [online] Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21911944/ [Accessed 10 July 2020]


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