Coconut Oil: Can Oil Pulling Give You a Healthier Smile?

The ancient Ayervedic cleansing technique of gandasha or oil pulling involves swishing around in the mouth oils like sesame, sunflower, or coconut to “pull” toxins from the body. Ayerveda is a respected system of medicine in its native India, and continues to draw enthusiasts throughout the world. Some Western dentists promote oil pulling—especially with coconut oil—for oral health and here’s why:

It’s a Jungle in There!

Your mouth is home to billions of bacteria, viruses, fungi and other parasites, and their toxins. Left unchecked, the build-up of biofilm (a thin layer of plaque) on teeth is a leading cause of tooth decay, gingivitis (gum disease), and bad breath. The simple action of oil pulling dissolves bacteria and sweeps it away as you expel it.

What’s Special about Coconut Oil?

Coconut oil is unique because it’s made almost exclusively of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). MCTs are metabolized differently than the long-chain fatty acids.

The medium-chain fatty acid, lauric acid makes up almost 50% of coconut oil. Your body breaks down lauric acid into a compound called monolaurin. Both lauric acid and monolaurin can kill harmful bacteria, fungi, and viruses in the body. (1) What’s more, coconut oil is particularly effective at killing the oral bacteria streptococcus mutans, a leading cause of tooth decay.

Show Me the Studies!

Before you throw out your toothpaste and mouthwash, consider a 2017 review (2) of 21 studies on oil pulling for dental hygiene, which found only a handful to be stringently designed. The American Dental Association states that there is insufficient research to support the practice of oil pulling.

“The good news is there are very few reports of side effects for oil pulling in the literature or anecdotally,” says Dr. Matthew Parr, DDS, owner of Surf City Dental. “I encourage my patients to be active participants in their oral health care. I wouldn’t recommend oil pulling instead of brushing—like in some cultures—but rather as an adjunct,” he concludes.

Some Sage Advice

If you decide to give oil pulling a try:

  • Use pure, unrefined coconut oil because it doesn’t have any other additives and it hasn’t been processed.
  • Begin with five minutes and work up to 20.
  • Discontinue if you experience any unpleasant side-effects.

coconut oil


(2) Mythri H. Oil pulling: A traditional method on the edge of evidence. Dent Hypotheses 2017; 8: 57–60.