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Should you try oil pulling to boost your oral health? Dentists explain benefits and side effects

Oil pulling is a centuries-old technique that's trending on social media for its dental health benefits. Experts explain how it works and what the science says.
Ripe coconuts, coconut oil on blue background.
Ripe coconuts, coconut oil on blue background. Tanja Ivanova / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

Oil pulling, which involves swishing oil around in the mouth and spitting it out, is an ancient Ayurvedic practice that's getting a lot of traction on social media. The technique is believed to help clean the mouth and promote dental hygiene.

On TikTok, there are hundreds of videos from people claiming the practice can do even more: whiten teeth, reverse tooth decay, fight gum disease, and treat a number of oral health conditions.

The practice has evolved from taking a spoonful of coconut or sesame oil to using pricey single-use oil pulling packets that come in a variety of fancy flavors.

How does oil pulling work and is there any validity to these claims about its benefits?

How does oil pulling work?

"Oil pulling has been around for thousands of years as a way to better oral hygiene," Dr. Matt Messina, clinic director of Ohio State Upper Arlington Dentistry, tells

The traditional remedy is rooted in the Ayurvedic medicine system and has been practiced widely in India and Southern Asia.

“It's a tradition that's now being adopted because it's trendy ... I think it’s become popular over the last couple of years with the idea of, how do I find something ‘natural’ to make my mouth healthier,” Dr. Suhail Mohiuddin, Chicago-based dentist and founder of Dentologie, tells

Oil pulling starts with taking a tablespoon of an edible oil and placing it in the mouth. Coconut oil is commonly used for oil pulling, Dr. Mark Wolff, dean of Penn Dental Medicine, tells Sesame oil, olive oil, and sunflower oil may also be used — as long as the oil is edible, the experts note.

Next, the oil is vigorously swished around in the mouth similar to mouthwash, the experts note. "The idea is you sort of chew the oil around and 'pull,' by creating your own suction to tug it between the teeth and the gums," says Messina.

After swishing the oil around for some time — oil pulling techniques vary but the practice can last anywhere from two to 20 minutes — you spit the oil out, says Messina.

Oil pulling is thought to help clean the teeth and reduce bacteria in the mouth, which can lead to the buildup of plaque and tooth decay. "Gingivitis or gum disease is basically inflammation of your gums caused by plaque, which is a biofilm," Mohiuddin adds.

Oil pulling benefits

Although people have been practicing oil pulling for centuries to boost oral health, the research is limited and mixed, at best, the experts note.

“It’s (going) around on social media as an alleged method for reducing tooth decay, bad breath, gum disease (gingivitis), and a whole litany of of untested health items,” says Wolff. Some influencers tout oil pulling for its systematic benefits, including improving skin health and "detoxing" the body.

Overall, there aren't enough robust, large-scale clinical studies clinical trials demonstrating these benefits, says Wolff.

"There are no reliable scientific studies to show that oil pulling reduces cavities, whitens teeth or improves oral health and well-being,” according to the American Dental Association.

One way cavities form is when the pH of the mouth is too acidic (below 5.5), which can cause the demineralization or erosion of enamel, says Mohiuddin. "There is no data that suggests that oil pulling can change the pH of the mouth," he adds.

A 2022 meta-analysis investigating the effects of oil pulling on oral health found that oil pulling may have potential benefit in reducing salivary bacteria colony counts, but had no significant effects on reducing plaque or gingivitis.

As for removing toxins from the body, there's no evidence oil pulling can do this, and the body detoxes itself on its own just fine with help from the liver, kidneys, lungs, and digestive system, previously reported.

“The real hard science on it is not very strong,” says Woolf.

While many of the supposed benefits of oil pulling are “somewhat questionable,” says Messina, the practice may still have a place in dental hygiene.

"The oil pulling method can have some effectiveness in removing loose debris from around the gum tissues and the teeth," says Messina. “Anything that we do to remove food debris, plaque, or bacteria from the teeth is certainly beneficial," Messina adds.

However, other methods like toothbrushes and flossing will do a much better job, the experts note. Our oral hygiene tools and capabilities have changed drastically in just the last 100 years, Messina points out. Compared to newer methods, oil pulling has a minimal effect on reducing debris and bacteria in the mouth.

Once a biofilm or plaque forms, oil pulling will "have no impact, or no greater impact than rinsing with water," says Mohiuddin. "The only way to properly remove plaque is with a mechanical interruption, such as brushing or flossing,” Mohiuddin adds.

"Now we even have water flossers and irrigators to power-pull or power-rinse to get between the teeth and below the gum line — it's simply a case of we've gotten better," Messina notes.

“Oil pulling is a historic method that has been supplanted by some better ways to clean our teeth,” says Messina. That's why it's important to use oil pulling as a supplementary dental hygiene practice in addition to brushing and flossing, not as a replacement for these methods.

Oil pulling side effects

"Oil pulling is not in any way dangerous. There’s nothing wrong with it, there’s nothing bad about it — there’s no scientific evidence to indicate benefit or harm," says Messina.

Compared to other trendy oral hygiene hacks on social media, such as brushing the teeth with charcoal (which is abrasive and harmful to enamel, says Messina), oil pulling is "pretty benign," he adds.

Edible oils are used for oil pulling, which are safe to put in the mouth and swallow, even though the oil is meant to be spit out at the end, the experts note. “We’re not talking about engine oil (or) any petroleum-based oils. That would not be safe,” says Wolff.

Swallowing too much of these edible oils may cause stomach upset or diarrhea, says Wolff. Otherwise, oil pulling is generally pretty safe.

"The only time I would argue that oil pulling could be considered dangerous is if someone it has, say an infection or periodontal disease, and you're using oil pulling instead of a known beneficial treatment," says Messina.

Should you brush your teeth after oil pulling?

It's typically recommended to brush your teeth after oil pulling, the experts note.

"Depending on what oil you’re using, if your mouth tastes like a salad, you might brush a little longer with some more toothpaste," says Messina.

How often to oil pull

Most of the recommendations around oil pulling suggest doing the practice one to two times per day, the experts note. “If oil pulling is being done as as an additional treatment, there’s nothing wrong with that,” says Messina.

Avoid swallowing the oil, and spit it into the trash can instead of the sink when you’re done, as the oil can clog pipes, previously reported.

Do dentists recommend oil pulling? 

Due to the lack of scientific evidence, the American Dental Association does not recommend oil pulling as a dental hygiene practice.

"I would personally not recommend it as I can't find the science to support it," says Wolff.

Adds Messina: "Dentists aren't going to recommend it because there's no scientific basis to say that it's beneficial, but we're certainly not going to discourage it unless people are going to do this instead of something that is beneficial."

Mohiuddin agrees that while most dentists won't recommend oil pulling, "as long as you're also brushing with a fluoride toothpaste, flossing or using a water-flosser, I don't think they're going to care,"

What the ADA and dentists do recommend is brushing twice a day with a fluoride-containing toothpaste for at least two minutes and flossing once a day. It's also important to avoid tobacco, visit your dentist for yearly examinations and get routine cleanings.

As with any claim about any remedy on social media, try to look for trusted sources and talk to your dentist if you have any questions or want to change your dental hygiene routine.

"Everybody's oral health needs are different. ... Your dentist can give recommendations for your individual situation," says Messina.