‘Oil-Pulling’ - Improving your dental health with coconut oil
It is the all-round talent amongst superfoods: Coconut Oil. We’ve been cooking our vegetables in it, added it to our green morning smoothies and used it as eye-makeup remover or body moisturizer. But did you know that coconut oil also works great as a mouth-wash, making your smile whiter and your gums stronger?
Oil as a mouthwash? Yes, you’ve heard right. ‘Oil-pulling’ is an Ayurvedic tradition whereby a tablespoon of oil is sipped, sucked, and pulled between the teeth for approximately 20 minutes upon waking up. The theory is as follows: bad bacteria that have accumulated overnight in the mouth cling onto the oil and are therefore ‘pulled’ from the teeth.
Benefits of ‘Oil-pulling’
Although ‘oil-pulling’ has been used over centuries as a traditional Indian folk remedy to cure and prevent a variety of diseases including migraine, diabetes and asthma, scientific studies of recent years have mainly focussed on its effect on dental health. And the results have been quite significant:
‘Oil-pulling’ reduces dental bacteria
A study conducted in 2008 showed that subjects practising oil-pulling once daily for a period of 40 days had a reduction in dental bacteria of up to 34%. The same study showed that the participants were 50% less likely to develop dental caries. 
'Oil-pulling’ cures gingivitis
Gingivitis is a condition characterized by inflammation of the gums. It is caused by the immune system attacking the bacteria in the plaque. ‘Oil-pulling’ can help reduce plaque and hence prevent and cure gingivitis. According to another study conducted by the Meenakshi Ammal Dental College in Chennai, India ‘oil-pulling’ is a great natural alternative to conventional antibacterial disinfectant such as chlorhexidine with both being equally effective against symptoms of gingivitis.
‘Oil-pulling’ helps with bad breath
In a third study 20 adult participants practised ‘oil-pulling’ for about 10 to 15 minutes on a daily basis for a period of 14 days. The results:‘oil-pulling’ was measured as just as effective as conventional mouthwash – reducing mouth odour by 90%.
These results got my attention. When it comes to dental health it can be very difficult to steer away from nasty chemicals such as artificial flavourings and foaming agents. So hearing about a natural remedy that is just as effective in improving dental health as conventional products, I was eager to try it for myself.
How to ‘oil-pull’
‘Oil-pulling’ is ideally done first thing in the morning before breakfast, although some health professionals say it can be done before any meal in severe cases of dental health issues.
The process itself is simple:
1. Take a tablespoon full of oil and put it into your mouth. I keep my coconut oil in the fridge making it solid. Therefore, I have to chew on it for about 20 seconds until it dissolves in my mouth.
Note: In the Indian tradition sesame oil is used for oil-pulling. A study conducted by Mahidol University in Bangkok, Thailand has found, however, that coconut oil has the strongest antimicrobial activity when compared to other oils such as sesame, sunflower, corn, palm or rice bran oil. It also tastes much better, which is indeed important considering that you will have to handle the taste for about 20 minutes on an empty stomach.
2. Swish it through your teeth – pulling, sipping, sucking – for approximately 15 to 20 minutes. The timing is crucial. You want the oil to be in your mouth just long enough to draw the bacteria, yet get rid of it before the harmful bacteria can be reabsorbed.
3. Spit the oil (should have a milky, opaque colour now) into the toilet or bin. Do not spit it in the sink as it might clog the pipes becoming solid at lower temperatures.
4. Rinse your mouth with water and brush and floss your teeth as usual.
I have to say, although I was naturally intrigued by this alternative remedy the thought of chewing on oil for 20 minutes each morning failed to excite me. And it did need some time to get used to. But after a week of sipping, sucking and pulling I am happy to report about my teeth being significantly whiter and shinier. They also have a smoother surface, which I attribute to the overall reduction of plaque. I decided to hold onto this new habit and will keep swishing it away!
You may also like:
 TD Anand, C Pothiraj, RM Gopinath, et al. Effect of oil-pulling on dental caries causing bacteria (PDF). African Journal of Microbiology Research, Vol 2:3, pp 63-66, MAR 2008. (PDF Link), http://www.oilpullingsecrets.com/OilPullingStudy2.pdf
 HV Amith, Anil V Ankola, L Nagesh. Effect of Oil Pulling on Plaque and Gingivitis. Journal of Oral Health & Community Dentistry: 2007; 1(1), pp 12-18, retrieved via: http://www.ijdr.in/article.asp?issn=0970-9290;year=2009;volume=20;issue=1;spage=47;epage=51;aulast=Asokan
Asokan S, Kumar R S, Emmadi P, Raghuraman R, Sivakumar N. Effect of oil pulling on halitosis and microorganisms causing halitosis: A randomized controlled pilot trial. J Indian Soc Pedod Prev Dent 2011, Vol 29, pp 90-94, retrieved via: http://www.jisppd.com/article.asp?issn=0970-4388;year=2011;volume=29;issue=2;spage=90;epage=94;aulast=Asokan
 S Thaweboon, J Nakaparksin, B Thaweboon. Effect of Oil-Pulling on Oral Microorganisms in Biofilm Models. Asia Journal of Public Health: 2010, Vol 2:2, pp 62- 66, retrieved via: http://www.asiaph.org/admin/img_topic/6096Sroisiri.pdf