Oil pulling - what it is, why should you do it and how it’s done

I was introduced to oil pulling long before I was introduced to Ayurveda. It was my mother who told me about it. At that time, she was recovering from breast cancer surgery and was looking into any possible way to naturally support her body in healing. I found out only later that it’s also widely practised and recommended by Ayurvedic practitioners. I have been practising oil pulling religiously for over 5 years. It is a non-negotiable part of my morning routine and I have seen great benefits from it. In this post I’m going to give you the low-down on oil pulling. There is a lot to dig into, so grab a cup of tea and get comfortable.

What is oil pulling and how does it work?

Oil pulling is a natural health practise that is thousands of years old. In short, it entails the swishing of a small amount of oil in your mouth for a few minutes in order to get rid of bacteria, toxins and improve oral health specifically, but also general health and well-being.

How does oil pulling work?

The principle of oil pulling is simple - if we swish oil around in our mouth, making sure to reach all areas like tongue, gums, teeth and their in-between - we “pull” bacteria into the oil. This happens because bacteria are single celled organisms that are attracted by the lipid structure of oil. Bacteria accumulate in the oil while you swish it around in your mouth and then spit out. The result is a mouth with less bad bacteria.

Does oil pulling originate from Ayurveda?

There are two traditional Ayurvedic practices that involve the handling of oil in the mouth. These are called Kavala and Gandusa. I would say that oil pulling is a modern adaptation of these practises. As always, some people like to discuss the origin of oil pulling extensively, to which I can only say that Ayurveda is entailing anything that heals. You can make any practice ayurvedic. So maybe, just maybe, we can all relax and take on whatever helps us be healthy and happy?

Documented in the ancient ayurvedic scriptures or not, the origin of oil pulling can be traced back to India, where it was used already thousands of years ago as a home remedy for various health issues.

Is there scientific proof for the results of oil pulling?

Unfortunately there are only very few studies on oil pulling out there and when you carry out a search about it, most of it is negative press. I found one case study where they were examining the presence of Streptococcus mutans (that's the bacteria that can cause cavities) after the regular practise of oil pulling and the findings were encouraging, especially after longer practice.

Since oil pulling is a natural remedy, that big pharma companies can't commercialise and make money with, it is not surprising that the negative press about oil pulling is mostly coming from them. I have made my own experiences and I’ve seen surprising effects (especially around teeth whitening), so I invite everyone to be curious and try it out for a while. If it doesn’t help you, there’s not much lost apart from a bit of oil. If it does work for you however, you may have found a wonderful way to improve your oral health. Since it’s natural, there are no harsh chemicals involved - hence no side effects. So why not just try it?

What are the benefits of oil pulling?

The list of benefits of oil pulling is long and quite frankly there are a few claims out there, which sound a bit far-fetched. Let’s be clear about this. Oil pulling will not heal cavities, but its plaque and bacteria removing qualities can help preventing them. The same applies for lose or lost teeth - the will not grow back because you start pulling oil. You need to take care of your oral hygiene before things go all cattywampus.

So does oil pulling really work? I’m not a scientist, but for me it did. But it can’t do miracles. And as with all natural remedies, it works slower than anything that has lots of chemicals in it. At the same time it’s going to be gentler to you.

But let’s have a closer look at some of the best known benefits of oil pulling.

Oil pulling and oral health

The most obvious part of our body where we can see the benefits of oil pulling is the mouth. It is reported that oil pulling is good for teeth and gums and that it can help prevent gum inflammation, gingivitis and receding gums as well as remove plaque and tartar and prevent cavities. Usually people who pull oil regularly also suffer less from bad breath.

If we revisit the fact that the oil attracts bacteria, of which you then get rid by spitting them out, it all makes sense. Most of the above issues are caused by bacteria and when the gums are tender and inflamed, bad bacteria is what don't you want to have in your mouth.

The same applies for Halitosis - or as we know it: bad breath. This is often due to bacteria that are trapped on the tongue. Cavities are often caused or worsened by the bacteria Streptococcus mutans, which is (as proven by the study mentioned above) reduced with oil pulling.

I personally have seen incredible results when it comes to whitening of the teeth and whitening of fillings. Since I've been 14 I have fillings in my front teeth. Over the years these fillings took on a rather nasty colour. So nasty that I didn't dare to smile anymore. I was really embarrassed. My dentist told me the only way to get rid of the discouration completely was to take them out and put new ones in (they were still in perfect shape apart from the colour, even though they are more than 20 years old *shout out to my dentist in Germany*). It would be painful and pricy - more than 1,500 £ I decided to give oil pulling with sesame oil a try - up until then I was doing it with coconut oil. It took 6 months of strict 20 minutes every. damn. day. But the result blew me away - the nasty brown discouration is COMPLETELY gone

Just to be clear about the degree of whiteness you can achieve with oil pulling - it will ALWAYS be your natural tooth colour. And sparkling white - as nice as it may look - is with 99% certainty not your natural tooth colour. Our teeth are by design a little bit on the off-white side. Don't expect oil pulling to work (unnatural) miracles)

Oil pulling and skin health

We know that our skin is heavily influenced by what is happening on the inside - from nourishment, digestion and movement point of view as well as from a mental point of view. So the idea that the removal of bacteria from your saliva, which plays a vital role in your digestion process, does not sound too bad. Additionally the facial movement that you create while swishing the oil also works the small facial muscles which keeps your face and neck toned.

There are sources that claim that skin issues such as acne, psoriasis and eczema can be relieved with oil pulling. In Ayurveda these issues are often tied to inflammation. Bacteria often make inflammation worse, so getting it out of your blood cycle is a step in the right direction. I would not go as far as to say that oil pulling alone is a remedy for acne or other skin diseases. These need a holistic approach to diet and lifestyle, but I would definitely recommend a regular oil pulling practise as part of this.

Oil pulling against cold and tonsilitis

Based on the fact that oil pulling captures bacteria, there are certain bullets that you can dodge or at least soften. Namely ear, throat and sinus infections as well as bronchitis and some forms of cough. These are all health issues caused by bacteria.

Virus infections on the other hand like the common cold or flu do not seem to be remediated by oil pulling. If you feel really sick, still see a doctor instead of working with natural remedies as they work slower than western medicine.

Which oil should I use for oil pulling?

When choosing the right oil for your oil pulling, it’s important that you opt for natural, non-refined oils and they should also be food grade (though you should never NEVER swallow the oil that you have pulled). The three popular oils for oil pulling are coconut, sesame and olive oil. You can make your choice based on the taste or on the benefits. It’s of course also possible to mix them or add essential oils - I for example at the moment use 60% sesame and 40% coconut oil with a few drops of different essential oils depending on my current needs.

Coconut oil for oil pulling

In modern, western oil pulling practises, coconut oil is by far the most prominent choice. It is a great oil because it is high in lauric acid and its antibacterial, antifungal and antimicrobial properties. Furthermore, it is said that coconut oil has an excellent effect on decreasing plaque and the build-up of tartar.

If you are using pure coconut oil for oil pulling you will (unless it’s very warm) start out with solid oil, that will melt in your mouth. This is for some of us a bit of an off-putting feeling. To prevent this from happening, you canput it in a hot water bath a few minutes before you start pulling.

Sesame oil for oil pulling

It is said that sesame oil, alongside safflower oil, was the “original” oil that was used for oil pulling. Just like coconut oil, it also possesses antibacterial and antifungal properties.

I started using pure sesame oil after one of my teachers told me of the teeth strengthening and whitening properties of sesame - and the effect was unbelievable. After I had achieved my goal of teeth whitening, I moved back to a mix of sesame and coconut.

When you choose your sesame oil, be aware that toasted sesame oil has a very distinct taste. I would recommend to go for normal organic sesame oil

Olive oil for oil pulling

Extra virgin olive oil has antibacterial and anti-inflamatory properties, which is why it’s also a very popular choice for oil pulling. Another positive is that most of us have olive oil at the ready in our kitchen, so you can just go to the kitchen and have a sip.

Olive oil has however also a quite distinct taste which not all of us can handle on an empty stomach. So make sure that you test your way to the right oil in small steps.

Final words on your choice of oil

At the end of the day, it does not really matter which oil you choose, as long as it’s natural. Go for the one with the most agreeable taste if you start out and then test your way around it. Obviously you should avoid any ingredients that you might be allergic to, or to which you have any sort of reaction.

How to do oil pulling

Let’s get into it - it’s really straight forward and not complicated at all. Before I walk you through how I do it, I’ll answer some of the most common questions on the process.

When to do oil pulling

You can do oil pulling in the morning or at night, but the morning is according to popular (and my) opinion the most beneficial time for it. Ideally, your body has spent a good part of the night detoxing and that means that the chances of you getting some extra toxins and bacteria out of your system are high.

Do it on an empty stomach and definitely before you brush your teeth (and yes - spoiler alert - you should in no case ditch the teeth brushing because you are doing oil pulling now).

Oil pulling can also be done at night but then the chances are higher that you forget it altogether. I would recommend to get used to it in the morning and make it a part of your morning routine.

How often should you do oil pulling

If possible once every day! It’s definitely not a one-off thing and the more regular you do it, the better the results and the more bacteria you fight. There are people who do it twice or three times per week, and this is fine as well. Every little counts and the more often you can do it, the better (I personally wouldn’t overdo it though - I think once per day is enough).

Oil pulling procedure

I think everyone has their own way of doing it, this is how I personally pull oil in the morning. I’ve done it for a long time, so I have gotten a pretty good routine in it and I don’t need to watch the clock anymore - I literally feel when I’m ready to spit (with a little bit of practise you can feel Kapha dislodge, it basically feels as if mucus is freeing up, I can’t really describe it that well).

So here’s what I do:

I take a sip of my oil mixture - you can measure it out, about a tablespoon is fine. Don’t take too much or you can’t swish it around.

I swish it around in my mouth, trying to bring it everywhere. Don’t overdo it, or your mouth will get tired. Do this for as long as you can, max. 20 minutes. While I swish I go and feed my very demanding cat and prepare my hot ginger water. You can read or even do it while you take a shower - anything goes.

Once you are done spit the oil either into a container (like a jar) or in some paper that you throw in the bin. Don’t spit it in the sink or the toilet, especially if you’re using coconut oil because it can clog your drains.

Make sure to spit EVERYTHING out and under no circumstances swallow. It’s a bacteria cocktail that you have mixed up here. You don’t want that entering your system.

Scrape your tongue - this is very important and will be a massive motivator for you - just trust me and wait for what you scrape off your tongue. It’s disgustingly satisfying. I would highly recommend to get a good old tongue scraper - the simple copper ones are pretty good. If you are one of my massage clients, let me know next time you come for a massage and I’ll give you one.

Rinse your mouth thorougly with water and then brush your teeth the same way as you would normally, making sure that you reach all the surfaces. Use floss as usual - I’m actually never sure if you should use it before or after brushing. Just do what you usually do.

Oil pulling with braces

I would recommend you to talk to a dentist before you start oil pulling with braces. I have never worn braces, so I can’t really comment on it. I think theoretically it could happen that discolourations around your braces get whiter while the areas your braces cover stay discoloured - a very undesirable experience, so rather be careful with it.

And should you still decide to pull oil, please brush your teeth super thoroughly in order to make sure nothing sticks to your braces.

The miracle cure

After all of the wonderful benefits that are listed here, you might think that you’ve got your health sorted - just do oil pulling! Nah, I know you know that it’s not that easy. Oil pulling is just one component. In order to prevent disease and live a long happy and healthy life (and this is what Ayurveda is all about), a few more things need to fall in place. If you made it to the end of this article, you might be interested in learning more about Ayurvedic nutrition and lifestyle - so why not get in touch and book a consultation?

In any case - keep me updated how you get along with the oil pulling if you decide to give it a try - I’d love to hear about your experiences.

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