Can Oil Pulling With Coconut Oil Transform Dental Health?

Medically Reviewed on 7/1/2022
Oil Pulling
Oil pulling is an Ayurvedic practice in which oil is swished in the mouth for oral and systemic health benefits.

Oil pulling is an Indian practice with its origin in the Eastern system of medicine called the Ayurveda.

It is thought to maintain oral health and cure over 30 systemic diseases by providing numerous oral health benefits such as improved gingival health with reduced inflammation and bleeding, resolution of symptoms of dry mouth/throat and chapped lips, whiter teeth, reduced halitosis, improved oral hygiene, and strengthening of oral muscles and jaws.

  • Examples of organic oils that are used include sunflower oil, sesame oil, and coconut oil.
  • Coconut oil is preferred because it is composed mostly of medium-chain fatty acids; it is, therefore, unique compared with most other dietary oils, which are predominantly made up of long-chain fatty acids.
  • Approximately 50 percent of these medium-chain fatty acids are lauric acid, known for its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory benefits.
  • Previous in vitro studies using biofilm models have reported the antimicrobial properties of coconut oil against Streptococcus mutans and Candida albicans.

What is oil pulling?

Oil pulling, also known as oil swishing, is an Ayurvedic practice in which oil is swished in the mouth for oral and systemic health benefits similar to the modern-day use of mouthwash and oral rinse.

  • It has been discussed in the Ayurvedic text “Charaka Samhita” (around 3,000 BC) where it is referred to as “kavala graham” or “kavala gandoosha.”
  • It was Dr. F. Karach who refamiliarized the concept of oil pulling in the 1990s in Russia.

How is oil pulling done?

A tablespoon (10 mL) of oil is taken into the mouth, it is sipped, sucked, and swished in the mouth between the teeth for 10 to 15 minutes until the oil loses its viscosity and becomes milky white. Then, it is spit out, and the mouth is rinsed thoroughly with water for several times.

Several instructions are to be followed during the practice of oil pulling.

  • It is preferably practiced during early morning hours, on an empty stomach, after brushing the teeth and cleaning the tongue.
  • It is practiced in a sitting position with the chin upright.
  • It can be done a maximum of three times in a day in case of acute diseases.
  • There is no contraindication for the practice of oil pulling except for children younger than five years due to the dangers of aspiration and swallowing.
  • It can be practiced during pregnancy and menstruation.

Mechanism of action

Although several theories exist, the exact mechanism of action is unknown.

  • One theory suggests a mechanism involving alkali hydrolysis of fat, resulting in saponification or “soap making” process. Because the oils used for oil pulling contain fat, the alkali hydrolysis process emulsifies the fat into bicarbonate ions, normally found in the saliva. Soaps that are effective cleaning agents blend in the oil, hence increasing the surface area of the oil and in turn increasing the cleansing action.
  • Another theory suggests that the viscous nature of the oil inhibits plaque accumulation and adhesion of bacteria.
  • Furthermore, the third theory hypothesizes that the antioxidants present in the oil cause detoxification by preventing lipid peroxidation, resulting in an antibiotic-like effect. Thus, it helps destroy microorganisms and potentiate the action of vitamin E in the oral cavity.


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6 benefits of oil pulling

Six benefits of oil pulling include:

  1. Antibacterial activity: Coconut oil has antibacterial activity against Candida albicans and Streptococcus mutans.
    • An average drop of 20 percent in the total bacteria count in the oral cavity was reported after a 40-day oil pulling regimen.
    • Another study comparing dental caries susceptibility before and after oil pulling reported that in half of the participants, susceptibility was reduced from "marked" to "slight." The susceptibility of the other half of the participants decreased from "marked" to "moderate."
  2. Oral thrush: It is an infection that affects the mouth. Oral candidiasis, often known as oral thrush, is a noncontagious fungal infection caused by Candida species.
    • It's prevalent in people who use drugs that can change their oral microbiota over time.
    • Oral candidiasis is more common in people who use dentures, are on long-term antibiotics, are on inhaled corticosteroids for asthma, and undergo chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
    • Evidence suggests that oil pulling therapy helps with oral thrush symptoms in two ways. First, it traps or pulls poisons and other pathogens out of the oral cavity during oil swishing, assisting in their mechanical elimination. Second, the antifungal characteristics of the oils used, particularly coconut oil, kill the yeast in the oral cavity, assisting in the elimination of the disease.
  3. Plaque-induced gingivitis: Gingivitis caused by plaque is one of the most frequent types of gingival disease caused by microorganisms in the plaque biofilm interacting with the host's inflammatory cells.
    • A recent randomized controlled experiment found that oil pulling therapy resulted in a significant reduction in modified gingival index scores and plaque scores compared with the use of chlorhexidine (mouthwash).
    • Another study reported a reduction in plaque scores after 45 days of oil pulling therapy. Fifteen plaque scores fell by 18 to 30 percent, whereas gingivitis decreased by 52 to 60 percent.
    • Furthermore, oil pulling was found to be beneficial against plaque-induced gingivitis in both clinical and biological studies.
  4. Dental caries: The oral cavity is always covered with a biofilm. The chemical and mechanical eradication of oral biofilm is critical for preserving the ecological balance of the oral cavity and preventing the carious process from starting.
    • The oral microbiome, which includes the oral biofilm, contains an estimated 700 distinct types of bacteria.
    • The most prevalent microorganisms that cause dental caries are Streptococcus mutans (which produce bacitracin) and Lactobacilli (which produce lactic acid). 
    • After the pH of plaque falls below the critical value of 5.5 for hydroxyapatite, 4.5 for fluorapatite, and 6.7 for cementum, calcium phosphate ions in the hydroxyapatite crystals disintegrate, producing demineralization. Dental caries is the demineralized form of enamel.
  5. Halitosis or bad breath: Bad breath is a frequent issue that can cause social humiliation.
    • The malodor is caused by the proteolytic breakdown of peptides found in food debris, saliva, plaque, and desquamated epithelial cells, which produce volatile sulfide compounds such as dimethyl sulfide, and hydrogen sulfide, and methyl mercaptan.
    • Sulfide chemicals are produced by gram-negative proteolytic bacteria that cause periodontitis and gingivitis. 
    • Oil pulling therapy was proven to be as effective against halitosis and related bacteria as chlorhexidine rinses, which are the gold standard.
    • Furthermore, oil pulling is less expensive than chlorhexidine, with no negative side effects such as allergic reactions or mucosal discoloration with prolonged use.
  6. Systemic effects of oil pulling: Oil pulling has health benefits that go beyond the oral cavity. Oil pulling, according to an Indian Ayurvedic source, can be used to prevent and treat more than 30 disorders, ranging from headaches, migraines, chronic skin diseases, and dermatitis to fatal conditions such as diabetes and asthma. However, this must not be used as a sole mode of treatment for these diseases.

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Medically Reviewed on 7/1/2022
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