An ancient traditional Indian health practice that takes a few minutes in the morning is gaining popularity as a way to protect against tooth decay and gum disease—and science backs it up.

Oil pulling, first described in Ayurvedic medical texts more than 2,000 years ago, is simple—put about a tablespoon or so of edible oil in your mouth and then hold it there, or swish it around, for about five minutes. (It may take a minute or so to “melt.”) Then spit it out (without swallowing!) and proceed with your normal flossing and toothbrushing.

The latest study confirms that oil pulling can help reduce levels of the plaque that causes tooth decay and gum disease. While conventionally done with sesame or sunflower oils, the researchers used coconut oil…a better choice.


In the study, dental researchers in India measured the level of plaque and gingivitis (gum inflammation caused primarily by plaque) in 60 teenage boys and girls, who were told to continue their normal routine of brushing their teeth and, if they did so, flossing. The teens were also asked to start daily oil pulling with coconut oil each morning, and they were retested every week for a month.

Results: By the end of the first week, levels of both plaque and gingivitis started to go down. By the end of the month, gingivitis went down more than 50% and plaque dropped by more than 300%. Those are equivalent to the reductions that can occur with the most effective antigingival mouthwash, which contains chlorhexidine, which can have unpleasant side effects ranging from mouth ulcers to a change in how food tastes to brown stains on your teeth.


According to Victor Zeines, DDS, a holistic dentist in New York City and Woodstock, New York, oil pulling battles plaque-causing bacteria because their outer cell membranes are made of fat, so they tend to stick to the oil—and then you spit them out.

But coconut oil has added advantages. It is anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial, and also rich in lauric acid, which the researchers speculate reacts with sodium hydroxide in saliva to form sodium laureate, the main component in soap. Yes, coconut oil pulling may be a pleasant way of washing your mouth out with soap!

Dr. Zeines thinks coconut oil pulling is a great addition to your daily oral-care routine as a preventive practice. Just don’t forget to continue to brush your teeth and floss every day, too.