Oil pulling, or oil swishing is a traditional folk remedy that has recently re-gained popularity.  The process involves swishing, or pulling, for 3-15 minutes with a natural oil such as sesame, sunflower, olive, coconut, and others.  It is said to cure/help with all kinds of health issues including whitening teeth, plaque buildup on teeth, hormonal issue, digestion.  Now spreading across the web, claims about oil pulling are begging the question, is this for real?

Let me start by saying, as a dentist, that in my 5+ years of dental education I have never heard of oil pulling.  The closest thing to it is that some mouthwashes, namely Listerine, use essential oils to help kill bacteria, freshen breath, and keep the mouth healthy.  So this idea of keeping an oil in your mouth for up to 20 minutes is certainly not involved in a core dental education.

Oil Pulling Claims

Oil pulling enthusiasts make 3 general claims about the practice that I will address one at a time:

1. Pulls Toxins: 

Unless you have a high level of toxins in your cheeks and tongue, the claim of pulling toxins is extremely far-fetched. There is no scientific evidence to show that toxins can be pulled from your body by swishing with oil.

2. Clean Mouth: 

Some claims, such as killing oral bacteria and reducing plaque, seem more plausible.  Doing a quick search on PubMed, the go-to scientific article search engine, one finds a scant dusting of articles on this ancient practice.  Basically, every relevant study was done by one man, a faculty member at a dental school in India.  The studies do show reduced plaque, improved health, and decreased bacterial loads in oil pulling patients.  However, the studies lack strength and do not compare oil pulling to common solutions like mouthwash, or Chlorhexidine (Peridex), the gold-standard in oral rinses.

3. Tooth Whitening: 

Now, we get to the last, and possibly most tantalizing claim about oil pulling. Whiter teeth!  A quick Google search results in numerous before-and-after shots, which as a dentist I know are completely useless unless done with the exact same lighting, F-stop, flash, etc.  None of the photos I found met my criteria for actual whitening as a result of oil pulling.  In addition, no scientific article can be found about the whitening effects. The placebo effect often drives people to perceive treatments as successful, when in fact they are not.  And any whitening effects of Oil Pulling appear to be purely placebo.

Oil pulling is an ancient practice that is being rejuvenated by young, easily persuaded individuals around the country, however there is virtually zero scientific evidence backing it up.

Do yourselves a favor! Go buy a bottle of mouthwash at the store. Use that once a day for the same effect as oil pulling without wasting 20 minutes of your life and making yourself feel sick.