Could coconut oil pulling help whiten your teeth? Credit: KorWhitening
Ayurveda is a natural system of medicine that originated in India over 3,000 years ago that focuses on treatments through natural and organic methods. One of these methods is oil pulling, an ancient practice that requires swishing oil - like coconut oil, olive oil, sesame oil - around your mouth to stimulate oral hygiene and remove bacteria from the mouth. It is said the potential dental health benefits of this are prevention of tooth decay, dryness of throat, bleeding gums, oral malodour, and to help strengthen your teeth, gums, and jaws.
These days oil pulling with coconut oil has found its way back into popularity thanks to the trend going viral on TikTok. But is there any truth to this trend? Does rinsing your mouth with coconut oil really help your teeth?
Credit: Getty Images
Your mouth is full of bacteria and can house up to 350 to 700 different types at a time. Mad! While some bacteria is good for you, a portion of it is harmful and can contribute to problems like tooth decay, gum disease and bad breath. In a study published by the National Library of Medicine, 20 children used either a mouthwash or oil pulling for 10 minutes every morning. After a single week, both techniques were seen to significantly reduce the same number of harmful bacteria found in their saliva.
50% of the population suffers from bad breath. This is due to infection, gum disease, poor oral hygiene or tongue coating (when bacteria and dead cells get lodged in the papillae on the tongue). Dentists usually prescribe chlorhexidine to kill off the microorganisms that contribute to bad breath, but new studies show that oil pulling is just as effective as traditional treatments.
Cavities (holes in the teeth) are a common problem caused by eating too much sugar, poor oral hygiene and a build-up of plaque. Plaque is a coating that covers the teeth made up of bacteria, saliva, and food particles. The bacteria then break the food particles down, forming an acid that ends up destroying tooth enamel and causes the teeth to decay. A 2016 study observed that oil pulling reduced the number of bacteria that caused mouth cavities just as effectively as mouthwash.
The bacteria found in plaque build-up can cause a common disease called gingivitis which causes redness, swelling, bleeding and inflammation of the gums. Two studies, one from 2015 and another in 2020, suggest coconut oil pulling can reduce plaque formation and help prevent gingivitis. This is because of coconut oil possessing antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
There are many disputes about whether this ancient technique actually whitens your teeth or not. TikToker’s and celebrities alike - especially Gwyneth Paltrow, the Mother of all natural (and sometimes questionable) beauty and health remedies - claim that their teeth are whiter and brighter from regular coconut oil pulling, documenting the process by uploading videos showing the before and after effects of coconut oil pulling which look pretty convincing to us.
However, health specialists and oral hygienists say that whilst oil pulling does have an array of proven dental health benefits - as we have just listed above - there is not enough scientific evidence to suggest that teeth whitening is one of them. Perhaps this common misconception happens because this technique does help to reduce plaque and tooth decay which naturally improves the appearance of your teeth over time. This is why your teeth seem to whiten after each session.
Credit: Golden Dentist Wellness Centre
First thing in the morning, before you even brush your teeth, you need to put a tablespoon of coconut oil in your mouth. (Some people choose to warm the oil up in the microwave first to make it more malleable, but this isn’t necessary.) Swish the coconut oil around your mouth for roughly 15 – 20 minutes.
To some people 20 minutes is a long time to be doing nothing so don’t be afraid to go about your usual morning routine while you are doing this. Hop in the shower, read a blog post, start those work emails. As the time ticks by you should feel the coconut oil thin out and become milky in texture.
Once the time is up spit it out in the bin, NOT IN THE SINK. Oil is bad for piping and will eventually block up your sink. Never swallow the oil after oil pulling because it is now full of bacteria and food that has been pulled from your teeth.
Oil pulling is NOT a replacement for brushing your teeth. Instead, think of it as an extra step before brushing your teeth to get those added dental health benefits.
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Zheelana is a writer based in Cardiff. She has a BA Honours in English and Creative Writing and is a certified TESOL teacher. When she isn’t out hiking in the lush Welsh countryside, she fills her days with reading, journaling, and going out for food.