Oil pulling is a natural folk remedy from India that involves swishing oil around the mouth. Because of the purported health benefits of oil pulling, some people are learning how to oil pull with coconut oil or other oils.

Oil pulling with coconut oil can fit easily into an oral health routine. Coconut oil is available at grocery stores and online, and this is the only ingredient.

Below, we describe what oil pulling is and how to do it. We also look at what researchers and practitioners say about the possible benefits and other considerations.

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Oil pulling involves swishing oil around the mouth. It is like using mouthwash, but for a longer period.

Coconut oil is absorbable, and it has several recognized health benefits, including reducing inflammation and fighting harmful oral bacteria. It is also edible, so there are few risks for oral use.

Most proponents of oil pulling recommend swishing 1 tablespoon of oil around the mouth for 15–20 minutes, then spitting it out.

Benefits of oil pulling with coconut oil may include:

Killing harmful bacteria in the mouth

The mouth contains a diverse population of bacteria. Some are harmful and may lead to tooth decay, bad breath, and gum disease.

A 2016 study with 60 participants found that oil pulling can reduce the population of bacteria in saliva and support oral hygiene. The researchers say that coconut oil is a safe alternative to chlorhexidine, an ingredient in some commercial mouthwashes.

Reducing bad breath

Bad breath generally results from a buildup of bacteria in the mouth. This may be related to poor oral hygiene, infection, or gum disease.

A 2011 study found that oil pulling may be an effective natural treatment for bad breath.

Preventing cavities

Cavities stem from tooth decay. They result from bacterial buildups, poor oral hygiene, and sugar consumption. Plaque is a coating of bacteria, saliva, and food particles. It coats the teeth and can damage the enamel, eventually causing cavities.

According to 2016 research, oil pulling may reduce the population of cavity-causing bacteria in the mouth. With brushing and flossing, oil pulling may be another way to support oral health.

Reducing inflammation and improving gum health

The bacteria in plaque can contribute to gingivitis, a common gum disease that causes redness and swelling and inflammation. It can also cause the gums to bleed easily. Research suggests that coconut oil can reduce inflammation.

In addition, according to a small 2015 study and another 2020 study, oil pulling with coconut oil can reduce plaque formation and help prevent plaque-induced gingivitis.

Whitening the teeth

No scientific evidence has confirmed that oil pulling can whiten the teeth. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that it may clear stains from the teeth’s surfaces. There is little risk in trying to whiten the teeth in this way.

It is not safe for people with allergies to coconuts or coconut oil to try this technique with coconut oil. Otherwise, there are no known risks.

It may be worth noting that oil pulling does not replace brushing, flossing, or other oral care techniques.

To try oil pulling with coconut oil, place a tablespoon of coconut oil in the mouth. Anyone who does not like the taste might try sesame oil or olive oil.

Sitting upright or standing, swish the oil around the mouth for 15–20 minutes. If keeping the oil inside the mouth is difficult, start with 5 or 10 minutes and slowly increase the duration. It is essential to keep swishing and breathe through the nose.

Once done, spit the oil into the garbage — spitting it into the sink or toilet can lead to clogging. Do not swallow the oil.

Most guides suggest brushing the teeth immediately afterward. Others say that it is better to wait a bit to promote the retention of good bacteria and the rebalancing of the oral microbiome.

In any case, use a different toothbrush after oil pulling to the one used for daily teeth cleaning.

There is scientific evidence of some benefits of oil pulling with coconut oil. However, high-quality evidence is somewhat lacking.

Oil pulling remains a simple, often affordable, and generally safe technique to add to an oral health routine.