"I Tried Oil Pulling For A Month, And This Is What Happened"

Can you swish your way to healthier gums and a calmer mind? One writer gave it a go.

May 12, 2016
bright white teeth
piotr marcinski/shutterstock

The practice of oil pulling is said to whiten teeth, treat gum disease, clear up acne, fight migraines, cure jaw pain, purge toxins, and improve overall health and well-being, but that’s not why I tried it. In fact, I didn’t know any of these “promises” when I started swishing oil around in my mouth. I did it because my yoga teacher, Lorilee Gillmore, recommended it. Not only is she a kick-ass yoga instructor and owner of Phoenix-based Moksha Ayurveda, (a center for the ancient science and medical arm of yoga dating back more than 3,000 years), she's also the picture of health and happiness. “Ama, which is known as toxicity in Ayurveda, builds up on the mouth and tongue,” she explained one day. “Oil can pull the toxicity out of the mouth.” I was game. I got started the next day, and almost a year later, I'm still going strong.

Related: 10 Tooth-Whitening Myths You Keep Buying Into

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Not that it was love at first swish. The mouthfeel of oil isn’t silky like wine, and that first tablespoon of olive oil was like gargling with grease, but still I swished and swished for what felt like forever. Four minutes in, I’d had it and couldn’t spit the oil out fast enough. The next day, I switched to cold-pressed organic coconut oil, which made all the difference. Any vegetable cooking oil will do—sesame, sunflower, grapeseed—so go with the one you like best, and opt for a high-quality organic version, because you are using it as medicine, says Lorilee. (We like Organic Coconut Oil.)

I kept at oil pulling, and before I knew it, 4 minutes every day stretched to 15, and my gag reflex turned off. But even better, the swish turned meditative. Instead of trying to talk with an oil spill in my mouth—which, spoiler alert, is nearly impossible—the silent morning ritual became akin to a killer meditation session. My kids quit asking me questions when they saw my pursed lips, and the ocean-like sound of the swishing worked like sound therapy on my monkey mind. And yes, my teeth felt cleaner and looked whiter, but that was just the icing on the cake. 

About a month into my new habit, I went for my regular six-month dental checkup and nailed my periodontal exam. You know, when the hygienist pokes and probes your gums, firing numbers to correspond to the bone loss around each tooth. The 1s, 2s, and 3s are no biggie, but when you get into the 4s and 5s, it can mean the beginning of periodontal disease—and I always used to have 4s and 5s. But not this time. Even the hygienist seemed surprised by my numbers, so I told her about oil pulling, and even though the dental community hasn’t embraced the holistic practice, the hygienist seemed intrigued. (“Based on the lack of currently available evidence, oil pulling is not recommended as a supplementary oral hygiene practice and certainly not as a replacement for standard, time-tested oral health behaviors and modalities,” says the American Dental Association’s website.)

Related: Gargling With Coconut Oil Helps Me Taste Food Better, Says Carla Hall

Some say the oil works like a magnet on bacteria and plaque, sucking them out of oral hiding spots, but there’s no proof yet that either bacteria or plaque are fat soluble and cling to swished oil. Others claim the act of swirling turns the oil into a kind of soap for the mouth, leaving it squeaky clean. The science isn’t definitive, but preliminary studies show it can reduce plaque and cavity-causing bacteria. 

Related: 12 Things Your Dentist Knows About You Just By Looking In Your Mouth

These days, my routine is simple. I do my oil pulling first thing in the morning, before coffee or teeth brushing. Sometimes I swish for 5 minutes, sometimes 20, depending on my schedule that day. Then I spit the oil in the garbage (no sense clogging my kitchen or bathroom drain). Gillmore has her own style: “I do my pulling while I’m in the shower. I tongue scrape, floss, and take a big swig of organic sesame oil before I get in, and then I work the oil in my mouth while I shampoo, condition, and shave.” It’s her version of singing in the shower.

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