Oil Pulling – Twenty Wasted Minutes Of Your Life?

Oil Pulling – Twenty Wasted Minutes Of Your Life?

Although its popularity appears to be waning, this ancient method of oral care still has its followers.

In the days before the internet, most people who wanted to look after their teeth just trusted their local dentist. Of course, there were a few ‘old wives tales’ that did the rounds, but even these often had some elements of wisdom in them, passed down from generation to generation. These days though, most people have access to the internet and a search for alternatives to professional dental care is a popular one.

Whilst there is quite a lot of information available about (often dangerous) DIY treatments, some people do seem to believe that, out there, there is a ‘miracle’ way of preventing your teeth from having problems in the first place. Enter the ancient Ayurveda method of oil pulling!

What is oil pulling?

Essentially, the belief is that swilling, usually coconut or sesame oil, around the mouth for between ten and twenty minutes each day will effectively dislodge food particles and clean the teeth of the potentially harmful bacteria that can lead to decay and gum problems like gingivitis and periodontitis. It is also claimed that it can ‘pull’ harmful toxins from the body and improve general health.

These types of claims are not exactly helped by the fact that they are sometimes endorsed by celebrities or ‘influencers’, which adds an additional appeal for some people. It is always worth remembering that whilst they may be great singers, actors or footballers etc, they certainly aren’t dentists and will not have undergone the years of training that the dentists at the Confidental Clinic in Greenwich have.

Look at the history

When we read about treatments like this, one of the appeals is that it is ‘natural’. In today’s modern fast paced technological world, it probably isn’t surprising that this appeals to some people. The reality though, is that this type of method was popular in its day, simply because more effective methods had not yet been invented. Ignoring the many advances of modern dental care is a dangerous and illogical thing to do. After all, people ‘naturally’ pulled out their own teeth with pliers in the past; we suspect that none of our Greenwich patients would want to return to those days!

So, does it work or not?

We should be clear here, that, in the absence of any other method, oil pulling probably would have beneficial effects. In fact, swilling anything, even water, around the mouth for up to twenty minutes is better than doing nothing at all. Swilling water can be a beneficial thing to do directly after a meal in order to dislodge some larger pieces of food from between the teeth. Indeed, any liquid will help to remove food particles and some of the bacteria, and that can only be a good thing. Compared to modern methods though, it is much less efficient.

Before we look at studies that have been done on this, it is also worth mentioning that some who have tried this method have found that swilling oil around the mouth for any length of time made them feel physically sick and left an unpleasant feeling in their mouth afterwards. In this aspect alone, a good mouthwash will be more effective.


A number of studies have been done which compared oil pulling to other methods. Unfortunately, these appear to be largely ‘pre biased’ towards the practice of oil pulling. Even taking this into account though, the results are far from spectacular and one actually found that a regular mouthwash containing chlorhexidine was more effective at removing bacteria than oil pulling (reference 1 below).

It is also worth remembering that this study was a straight comparison between oil pulling and mouthwash and did not include added ‘extras’ such as brushing and flossing. It is quite possible that some adherents of oil pulling may see this as a ‘cure all’ and may well skip these other very important aspects of cleaning their teeth.

This is the modern world

In the opinion of the dental team at the Confidental Clinic, oil pulling is little more than a waste of time. Having said that, if you really want to try it, do make sure that you also brush your teeth well and use dental floss. We would rather you spend a little extra time focussing on these aspects of your oral health, than twenty minutes of swishing oil around your mouth.

As always, even with the best home oral health care, you still need to see a dentist every six months for your regular check up. At the Confidental Clinic in Greenwich, we offer both private and NHS dental care to make sure that this is accessible for all. You can make an appointment to see one of our dentists by calling us on 020 8858 1422.

Reference 1 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18408265