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Oil-Pulling: Understanding the Latest Craze



The latest health fad or lasting regimen?

“Keeping of oil gargle provides strength in jaw and voice, development of face, maximum taste and relish in food. The person practicing this does not suffer from dryness of throat, there is no lip cracking, teeth are not affected with caries rather they become firm rooted. They (teeth) are not painful nor are they over sensitive on sour taking, they become able to chew even the hardest food item.” Charaka Samhita Sutrasthana 5.78 – 80

What’s the buzz about?

Oil Pulling, the technique of swishing sesame, sunflower, or coconut oil orally for 10-20 minutes, is making waves across popular health blogs like Wellness Mama and Dr. Axe, and information sites like WebMD. What’s the buzz about? Oil-pulling may prevent dental carries, improve oral hygiene, increase oral microbial count, inhibit adhesion of plaque to teeth and oral surfaces, reduce gingivitis, reduce halitosis, whiten teeth, improve general health [1]. In 1996, an Indian newspaper called Andhra Jyoti conducted a survey to find out user experiences regarding the effectiveness of oil pulling. Out of a total of 1041 respondents, 927 (89%) reported amazing health benefits. Only 114 (11%) reported no benefit.

Andrha Jyoti, an Indian newspaper outlet, conducted a survey to discover the effectiveness of oil pulling. 1041 participants were polled, 927 (89%) reported positive health benefits

How to do you pull oil?

  1. Pull Oil in the morning prior to eating, or before meals
  2. Use Warm sesame oil, sunflower and coconut have been shown to be beneficial as well
  3. Take about 1 tsp to 1 T of oil, or whatever is comfortable
  4. Swish the oil around in the mouth up to 20 minutes, but try not to think about the time
  5. Traditional Ayurveda sources indicate the oil should spat out when your eyes tear up and the nose runs
  6. Always spit the oil into a trash receptacle, not down the sink
  7. Do not swallow the oil, as it has pulled toxins and bacteria from your mouth
  8. Brush your teeth with water or paste after oil-pulling
  9. Be mindful of the effect oil-pulling has on you, some practitioners using coconut oil have experienced insomnia and contact dermatitis

Is Oil-pulling safe?  

Health practices that are holistic are more effective. Anytime you add a new practice to your daily regimen or change your diet, you should think about how that practice or change may affect other areas of your overall health. It is becoming increasingly clear that the mouth is gateway to bodily health. Consuming sugary drinks or unhealthy foods will not only have a negative effect on the health of your mouth, but also on the health of the rest of your body. Accordingly, oil-pulling, mouth-washing, tooth-brushing, and flossing are more effective if the other substances going into the mouth are not excessively harmful.

It is important to consult all dental treatments with a medical professional. While anecdotal testimonials and the few scientific studies conducted so far show that oil-pulling has positive oral health benefits and few negative side-effects, oil-pulling is not necessary for everybody and it can have negative side-effects (especially coconut oil). Nevertheless, oil-pulling should be studied more and given weight as a possible dental practice.

Where did Oil-Pulling Originate?

The oil pulling technique, or kavala shamana, has been utilized for thousands of years as part of the holistic medicinal practices known as the Ayurveda. Ayurveda, or life-knowledge, is the system of medicine rooted in the Indian subcontinent. To this day, Indians studying to become doctors learn Ayurveda practices alongside Western practices. Thus, while many of the practices illuminated in Ayurveda texts have not been studied in accordance with Western standards for scientific inquiry, the prescriptions and life-style choices advocated in Ayurveda are given equal or greater standing among medical professionals. Outside of the Indian subcontinent, the globalized and modernized practices derived from the Ayurveda tradition are known as alternative, complementary, or supplemental medicine. The difference between Ayurveda and Western medicinal practices is critical to understanding the efficacy of oil-pulling.

Pulled from the holistic context of Ayurveda, several misconceptions about how to oil-pull have arisen. Many popular websites advocate the use of coconut oil; sesame is the traditional oil used. Per an Ayurveda practitioner on his blog True Ayurveda [2],

“Kavala is the swishing of warm (not hot) sesame oil or water (yes, water can be used too as well as well as other substances for specific treatments/reasons) in your mouth until tears develop in the eyes and the nose runs. Not 20 minutes like you are being told. Liquefying of kapha (a dosha) is what is happening at this point and that amount of time will differ for every individual. The tearing and runny nose is the definitive sign of proper treatment is done. There are detailed diagnostic SIGNS and SYMPTOMS of correct treatment of everything in Ayurveda.[2]”

Is oil-pulling effective?

Not all oils are created equal, nor are they equally beneficial for different uses. In the case of oil pulling, high quality sesame, sunflower, coconut, and olive oil have been used and studied with positive results. Out of all the oils, sesame is backed by both scientific evidence and the Ayurveda tradition. Specifically, in a study looking at the effect of oil-pulling on three microorganisms that cause oral health problems, s. mutans, l. casei, and c. albicans, coconut oil was effective against s. mutans and l. casei, sesame against s. mutans, and sunflower was found to be an effective anti-fungal. None were effective against c. albicans [3].

Moreover, in a triple-blind study looking at the effect oil-pulling has on plaque induced gingivitis, Sesame oil was found to be equally effective as the active ingredient in prescription mouthwash, chlorhexidine [4]. Why use oil-pulling over the established method of mouthwash? Generally speaking, oil-pulling is advantageous because it does not stain, leave an after-taste, and is not allergy inducing.

Why not coconut oil?

In a study cited above, coconut oil was effective at fighting off two harmful microorganisms, better than sesame oil’s one. Moreover, coconut oil has lauric acid which provides an additional cleansing effect in the mouth. Despite the positives, coconut oil has been linked via anectodical evidence to negative side-effects [5]. It is interesting to note that coconut oil was not used in the Ayurveda tradition, even though coconuts abound on the Indian sub-continent. In the end, the effects of oil-pulling, like any medicinal practice, will vary based on the individual and the benefits of oil-pulling are not immediate. If you are interested in adding oil-pulling to your daily regimen, be aware of the quality and type of oil used and of any positive or negative side effects.


  1. Shanbhag VKL. Oil pulling for maintaining oral hygiene – A review. Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine. 2017;7(1):106-109. doi:10.1016/j.jtcme.2016.05.004.
  3. S Thaweboon, J Nakaparksin, B Thaweboon. Effect of Oil-Pulling on Oral Microorganisms in Biofilm Models. Asia Journal of Public Health: 2011 May-Aug. (PDF)
  4. Asokan S, Emmadi P, Chamundeswari R. Effect of oil pulling on plaque induced gingivitis: A randomized, controlled, triple-blind study. Indian J Dent Res [serial online] 2009 [cited 2017 Apr 10];20:47-51. Available from:
  6. HV Amith, Anil V Ankola, L Nagesh. Effect of Oil Pulling on Plaque and GingivitisJournal of Oral Health & Community Dentistry: 2007; 1(1):Pages 12-18
  7. S Asokan, J Rathan, MS Muthu, PV Rathna, P Emmadi, Raghuraman, Chamundeswari. 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 the Indian Society of Pedodontics & Preventive Dentistry. 26(1):12-7, 2008 Mar