Hundreds of different bacteria species live in your mouth.
Many of these are beneficial and play an important role in helping you digest food and keep your tissues healthy. But many pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria can lead to gum disease, tooth decay, and bad breath.
In addition to brushing and flossing, it’s commonly recommended that you include a fluoride or alcohol mouthwash in your oral hygiene routine to help kill these harmful bacteria. But these chemicals can also be harsh on your oral tissues, and you can only hold them in your mouth for a limited amount of time—meaning the mouthwash may not effectively reach all the little nooks and crannies where bacteria like to hide.
As an alternative, many people are turning to an older technique from the Ayurvedic tradition of Indian medicine: oil pulling.
How To Clean Your Mouth With Oil Pulling
You don’t need any special tools, and the only ingredient you need is probably already in your kitchen. Most people prefer coconut oil for oil pulling because of its pleasant taste, but sesame, olive, or sunflower oil are also popular favorites.
- Measure out one tablespoon of your chosen vegetable oil.
- Swish the oil around in your mouth for 15-20 minutes. (You can do this while you’re getting ready for work or doing other tasks around the house)
- Do not swallow the oil.
- Spit the oil out into the trash (it can clog your drains if you spit it into the sink).
- Rinse your mouth with water and brush your teeth as usual.
At first, you may find the sensation of swishing oil around in your mouth for an extended period to be strange. Start with a few minutes and gradually work your way up to the full 15-20 minutes. It appears to be more beneficial the longer you do it, as the oil will emulsify after around 5 minutes of swishing.
Why Oil Pulling Works
Bacteria cells are surrounded by a cell membrane made up of lipid (fat) molecules.
When you swish oil in your mouth, the lipids in the oil will attract to and bind with the lipids in the bacteria cell membranes, causing the bacteria to be “pulled” into the oil.
The oil can also help to pull other plaque and food debris from your teeth and gums. And since you are doing this for an extended period, the oil has a chance to thoroughly pass through all those hard-to-reach places in your mouth where plaque may accumulate.
This leads to benefits such as:
- Prevents plaque buildup
- Reduces bad breath
- Reduces gum inflammation
- Whitening of the teeth
- Healthier gums
- It prevents dental caries (cavities)
- Reduces tooth pain
- Helps with sore/dry throat
- Relieves chapped lips
- Strengthens jaw muscles
Some people also report benefits such as reduced headaches, improved sleep, and improved digestion.
Oil pulling is not meant to replace brushing and flossing, but it may be an effective alternative to alcohol-based mouthwashes.
If you have any questions or concerns about your oral health, talk to your dentist or primary care physician to receive more specific advice on how to best care for your teeth and gums.