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The Practice of Oil Pulling

By Andrea Pham, RDH

Standing in the oral care products aisle at the grocery store, a person can see how the health industry has slowly taken a turn towards more natural alternatives. As consumers learn about how chemicals affect their systemic health through the availability of research from the internet and now the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers are leaning towards all-natural alternatives. Out of all the natural oral health alternatives, one practice stands out – oil pulling. Oil pulling is an Ayurvedic practice that has been shown to help with many aspects of a person’s health from reducing the size of incipient dental cavities to treating fungal oral infections.

Ayurvedic medicine is alternative medical practices that focus on natural health treatments. Oil pulling has been traced back to ancient Hindu practices of purification. These oils are readily available, cost effective, and the results from oil pulling are highly beneficial for a person’s systemic health. Oil pulling is ideal due to it not requiring a prescription, inexpensive, multipurpose uses, and lack of medical contraindications (unless a person is allergic a specific type of oil, but there are many oil options). Fortunately, there is scientific evidence to prove its efficacy.

woman oil pullingOil pulling works through three main mechanisms of action. First, oil pulling is a form of saponification, which is the alkaline hydrolysis of oil used in the process of soap making. When oil is forcefully pushed back and forth through a person’s teeth, the oil emulsifies, creating bicarbonate ions which can be naturally found in a healthy person’s saliva. Bicarbonate ions have been proven to cleanse, buffer pH, replenish electrolytes, and alkalinize, which provides a myriad of health benefits. The saponification process aids in the detoxification of protozoa, bacteria and viruses. Secondly, the viscosity of oil inhibits the growth of bacteria and prevents plaque from forming. The oil’s thickness makes it difficult for any pathogens to attach to a person’s teeth and gingiva, preventing bacterial, viral and fungal accumulation. Lastly, oil pulling is a way of detoxification and purification since antioxidants are generated from swishing the oil, which then causes lipid peroxidation prevention. Lipid peroxidation is an important step in pathogenesis. Lipid peroxidation is when cell damage occurs from free radicals stealing electrons from the cell membrane. Oil pulling hinders lipid peroxidation by forming antioxidants therefore detoxifying a person’s soft tissue from toxins. Oil pulling has multiple biochemical reactions that are very useful in a person’s health.

Oil pulling is effective and simple. Ideally, oil pulling should be done on an empty stomach, first thing in the morning, for twenty minutes. A person can oil pull up to three times a day to treat acute infections. It can be done starting at about the age of five years old (as long as the person can expectorate and does not have high aspiration risk). For people from five to fourteen years old, one teaspoon of oil can be used. For adults, it is best to use one tablespoon of oil. When first starting to oil pull, it is best to use half a tablespoon of oil and swish for five to ten minutes, slowly building up to twenty minutes. Oil pulling should not exceed twenty minutes, as a person’s oral tissues can start to reabsorb toxins after that amount of time. While oil pulling, swishing should be done gently by pushing the oil back and forth between a person’s teeth. It is best to avoid swishing aggressively, as it will cause facial muscles to fatigue quickly and reduce the amount of time a person can oil pull. Oil pulling’s mechanisms of action do not start until after five minutes of active swishing. During oil pulling, the oil will gain volume as it detoxifies. Once oil pulling is completed, a person is to spit or expectorate into a napkin, paper towel or trash can, and should not spit into a sink, as the oil can clog the drainage system. After spitting out the oil, it is best to use warm salt water or a person’s normal oral hygiene routine to clean one’s mouth out. If oil pulling was done correctly, the oil will become milky, white and thinner. Sitting upright or standing during this process is best so that it reduces the chances of aspirating. Never swallow the oil, as it contains toxins from the detoxification process. Oil pulling cannot replace dental therapies such as flossing and brushing. It is simple, but it can be time consuming and takes practice to get used to.

coconut oilThere are many oils available to use for oil pulling. Cold pressed oils are most effective. The oil needs to be food grade, as non-food grade oils may have toxic chemicals mixed in with it. Oil pulling can be done with a variety of oils but coconut, sesame, sunflower and olive oil are the most researched ones. The most common oil used is coconut oil. Coconut oil is the best at preventing cavities and inhibiting cavity progression, as oil pulling with coconut oil forms lauric acid. Lauric acid is an effective alternative treatment for Streptococcus Mutans (a pathogen that causes dental caries). Sesame oil is also very potent, as it has been shown to have the same effects as prescription Chlorhexidine Gluconate rinses. It is highly effective in preventing fungal infections (both mycelial and yeast forms of Candida albicans). Both sesame and sunflower oil reduce and help prevent gingival inflammation by suppressing gingivitis causing pathogens. Out of the oils listed above, olive oil has proven to reduce the most microorganisms that cause halitosis (bad breath). All of these oils help reduce the pathogenic microbial load found in the mouth.

The ancient practice of oil pulling is a great natural oral hygiene boosting method that is valuable when incorporated in a person’s daily routine. It is more effective than over the counter mouthwashes and inexpensive. It has been scientifically proven to be beneficially used to treat and reduce a variety of oral health problems. Overall, oil pulling is an effective way of improving and maintaining a person’s overall health.


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