I’ve been seeing mention of oil-pulling on blogs and social media now for a long time, and had mostly written it off as some celebrity dentistry fad. I’m all about trying natural remedies and DIY products on my skin and hair, but when it comes to my teeth I usually do what the good doctor tells me to.
Still, despite my regular brushing and flossing, I often notice that my gums bleed when I floss and I get tooth sensitivity when I drink cold water (or eat ice cream!). Since, according to my internet research, there are no negative side effects to oil-pulling, I figured I might as well give it a shot.
A Brief History
Oil-pulling is a dental technique rooted in traditional Ayurvedic medicine (you may also see it referred to as Kavala or Gandusha). Essentially, all it involves is swishing oil—pretty much any edible, plant based oils will do, the most common being coconut oil, sesame oil, and sunflower oil—around in your mouth for anywhere from 3 to 20 minutes. It can be done instead of or in addition to your regular dental hygiene routine.
The health benefits, according to a 2011 review in the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, are widespread. It’s said to cure about 30 different ailments, including headaches, diabetes, asthma, and eczema. But most directly, it’s used for mouth-related issues like bad breath, tooth decay, bleeding gums, dry throat, cracked lips, and strengthening the teeth, gums and jaw.
Using about a tablespoon of oil (or an oil-mixture, as many people recommend), you gently swish it around your mouth for several minutes. The oil is supposed to remove fat-soluble toxins from deep in your oral cavity, while reducing inflammation inside your mouth. Enzymes in your saliva will mix and begin to digest the oil, making it more potent the longer you do it.
Day 1: I decided to use a mixture of coconut, sesame and moringa oil. A tablespoon of oil doesn’t seem like a lot but it definitely took some getting used to, and I had to keep reminding myself not to over-swish and tire out my jaw and cheek muscles. All that swishing built up a lot of saliva in my mouth, and it became too much after about 13 minutes. Not bad for a first timer.
Day 2: This was a Saturday and I’d been out at a friend’s birthday party the night before, so wasn’t exactly feeling in top form when I woke up. I made it nearly 17 minutes of pulling, and felt surprisingly clearer-headed afterwards. That evening when I flossed and brushed—I can’t tell if this was all in my head or not—but there seemed to be less blood in my toothpaste.
Day 3: I only made it about 14 minutes this time. I think the sesame oil aroma is a bit too strong first thing in the morning and it made me gag.
Day 4: I switched out the sesame oil and now have about a 3:1 ratio of coconut to moringa oil, and lasted a full 18 minutes—my strongest day of the week. My gums barely bled at all when I flossed—definitely not all in my head!
Day 5: I was in a bit of a rush so I only pulled for 12 minutes that morning. When I examined my smile in the mirror, my teeth actually are starting to look whiter already.
Day 6: I did another 12 minutes on this day. In the afternoon I developed a slight headache, which is unusual for me, and I’m wondering if the oil-pulling could be the cause, as it’s been the only change in my routine lately. I realized I haven’t been noticing as much tooth sensitivity over the last couple of days either.
Day 7: After pulling for 16 minutes, there was no bleeding during my brushing and flossing routine. However, I developed a headache again in the afternoon, which is definitely troubling.
Overall, I’m really impressed by the difference in the way my mouth feels. After only about 5 days the bleeding gums ceased, and my teeth really do look whiter and feel better. I want to stop for a few days to see if there’s any connection between the pulling and the headaches, but definitely plan to make it a part of my regular routine. 20 minutes is a lot to add on to my already packed mornings, but maybe doing it for about 10 minutes a couple times a week would be a good start.