Are coconut oil pulling dangers real or false?

Updated: Aug 14

An ancient Ayurvedic practice dating back 3000 years ago has resurfaced in modern times with touted benefits such as preventing tooth decay, curing bad breath, curing bleeding gums, and even strengthening your teeth. Is it just a fad or does it actually work?


coconut oil
Coconut oil for pulling

Table of Contents:



What is oil pulling?

This ancient practice utilized rinsing with oil to pull toxins out of your body and in the process, it removes impurities from your body. This holistic medical practice was first used on the Indian subcontinent. Now, this method is being repurposed to fight tooth decay, gingivitis, and bad breath.



How does oil pulling work?

The mouth is considered the window to the general health of the human body because everything has to enter through it first. As we all know, the mouth is filled with bacteria on a daily basis but if we manage to eliminate some of them via oil pulling, then there would be less bacteria that can possibly enter the body. Therefore, oil pulling works by pulling all of these bacteria and toxins out of our mouths so that less of it can be in the body.



How to use coconut oil pulling:

  1. Pour out 1 tablespoon of coconut oil into a cup.

  2. Swish it around in your mouth for about 15-20 minutes.

  3. Do not swallow it, can spit it back out.

  4. Rinse your mouth out with water before you eat or drink.

It is very important to remember that you should not swallow any of the oil that you are using for the oil pulling since it contains all of the bacteria and toxins that you do not want in your body. If you swallow it, then you'll be reintroducing it back into the system.


The most common oil that people tend to use for oil pulling would be coconut oil but that is most likely due to the prevalence and ease of accessibility. Other types of oil can be used as well but it may be more difficult to find them such as sunflower oil, which is not as common. In actuality, the oil pulling could work with just about any oil, even extra virgin olive oil.


Here are some alternative oils to use for pulling:

The recommendation is to also try to acquire the cold-pressed versions of the oils.




Oil pulling benefits:

In regards to oral health benefits, the stated claims are that it can fight tooth decay, reduce bleeding gums, and even eliminate halitosis or bad breath. Supposedly, by swishing the oil around for around fifteen minutes, it will eliminate all of the impurities in your mouth and fight off all of the bacteria.


Here is a full list of oil pulling benefits:

  • Activate salivary enzymes. The enzymes absorb chemical toxins, bacterial toxins, and environmental toxins.

  • Generate antioxidants. These antioxidants can damage bacterial cell walls and kill them.

  • High saponification index. The oil contains lauric acid which reduces plaque adhesion and cleanses the mouth.

  • Prevents bad breath. Olive oil contains squalen, phytosterols, vitamin A, vitamin E, and vitamin K which can prevent oral malodor.

  • Increase metabolism of body. Supposedly increases the body's metabolism, ability to heal, and overall longevity of the human body.


Some people even use oregano oil instead of coconut oil due to its strong antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. There have even been claims that the oil pulling will strengthen not only your teeth but your jaws as well. As a disclaimer, studies have acknowledged that there may be possible benefits but actual studies that tested the efficacy of such claims have yet to be done.



Mythbusters - Are these claims true or flat out dangerous?

Are you wondering if these claims for oil pulling with coconut oil too good to be true? It turns out that scientific evidence does seem to show support for these claims.

  • The oil pulling appears to kill microorganisms by generating antioxidants that are toxic to the bacterial cell walls.

  • It has been found that sesame oil pulling and sunflower oil pulling does indeed reduce plaque and fights gingivitis.

  • The roots of sesame naturally have an anti-fungal property as well.

So it appears that yes, there is evidence that supports this ancient practice. Even without these studies, we can actually still extrapolate what we know is true and apply it to this holistic practice.


Relationship between bacterial activity and pH levels

Typically bacteria thrive in a low pH environment and the recipe to cause a cavity is actually a low pH over an extended period of time. This is why if you don't brush your teeth and you go to sleep, you are giving the bacteria eight hours of overtime work! If you brush and floss your teeth before you sleep then the bacteria have no fuel to work the overnight shift.


The magical pH level of when you start developing tooth decay is about 5.5; It appears that most of the oils that are used for oil pulling have a pH level above that.


pH levels of common oils:

  • Coconut oil 7-8 pH

  • Sesame oil ~5.5 pH

  • Sunflower oil 7.3 pH

So what actually happens when you are using the oil pulling technique, is that you are buffering the oral environment by making it more alkaline. All that gargling that you are doing for twenty minutes is basically bringing the pH level back up from acidic levels. This creates a hostile environment for the bacteria and it decreases their efficacy. This situation is similar to when you drink milk to counteract spicy food and it does so by buffering the mouth by making it less acidic.


With that being said, you may want to be more cautious with some of the oils that you pull with such as with the sesame oil pulling because the pH level appears to be lower than the other two. There might be some possible danger with the sesame oil and more research would be required before you commit to it.


You can use whatever oil you want but make sure to look up the pH level before you use it! It is safer to stick with a more alkaline oil. If you're still unsure about which oil to use, you can ask one of our dentists in long island city for a recommendation as well.



What oil pulling will not do:

Most of the claims are true but we will have to debunk one of them. The oil pulling will help prevent caries and possibly save you a trip to get a tooth filling but what it can't do is reverse a cavity. Once that cavity has started, it is too late.


A small cavity can actually be reversed but that is done by using fluoride. The science behind it is that when you introduce fluoride, it changes the structure of the tooth from hydroxyapatite to fluorapatite by replacing a hydroxyl group with a fluoride ion. This process actually increases the stability of the tooth as well as its hardness. That is the process for how to remineralize teeth.


Unfortunately the oils don't have the same property as fluoride so that one is debunked! For this reason, our LIC dentists recommend that you still use a fluoridated toothpaste in addition to pulling with oil.



The risks to coconut oil pulling and their disadvantages:

Oil pulling may help you prevent cavities but there are risks to using oil pulling. Most of the effects aren't severely detrimental but nonetheless still pose potential harm. Here are the coconut oil pulling dangers:

  • Oil ingestion. Swallowing the oil that was used to pull with can be harmful because it is full of the bacteria that you're trying to get rid of. You need to spit out the oil afterwards and rinse your mouth out thoroughly.

  • Allergy. You may be allergic to the oil that you're using such as having a coconut allergy or a sesame allergy. In which case you should use a different oil or not use this technique at all.

  • Not a replacement for brushing and flossing. Oil pulling will not replace traditional oral hygiene practices such as brushing and flossing because it is an adjunctive procedure. If you were under the impression that it may be a replacement, that would certain cause some harm to your health.

A disadvantage to using oil pulling as opposed to rinsing your mouth with a different mouthwash such as Listerine is that it takes longer to rinse with. You only have to rinse with Listerine for 30 seconds while oil pulling you have to swish for about 15-20 minutes. If you take into account that you rinse with it twice a day, you're spending roughly half an hour a day just rinsing your mouth out!



Conclusion

If you want to supplement your oral hygiene regime with coconut oil pulling, we say go for it because it can help prevent cavities and reduce bleeding gums! The only danger to coconut oil pulling is if thought it could replace brushing and flossing because nothing can replace that. The oil pulling is only meant to be used as an adjunct to your oral hygiene routine.


Also if you want to use a different type of oil, you may want to stay away from the sesame oil but check the pH level before you pick one. If you like alternatives, you may like our lemon water article. Nonetheless, if you need a cavity filling, you still have to see the dentist... so why not come see one of our long island city dentists for the cavity removal?

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About the author: Dr David Chen, DDS

Hello, I'm Dr Chen and I'm an actively practicing dentist in Long Island City, NY. I graduated from Columbia University College of Dental Medicine in 2016 but prior to going to dental school I was already working in the dental field. It's been more than a decade since I first got to know dentistry and let me tell you, time flies by quickly. Since then I've developed a fondness for writing, which is how this all got started!

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Medical Disclaimer:

This blog is purely meant for information purposes and should not be used as medical advice. Each situation in your mouth is unique and complex. It is not possible to give advice nor diagnose any oral conditions based on text nor virtual consultations. The best thing to do is to go in person to see your dentist for an examination and consultation so that you can receive the best care possible.

The purpose of all of this oral health information is to encourage you to see your dentist and to inform you of what you may expect during your visit. Due to the unfortunate nature of dentistry, there isn't really any true home remedies that will get rid of dental problems. Roughly 99.99% of them require in-person intervention by a healthcare professional.

Hint: That is the reason why you can't eliminate seeing dentists in your life!