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Does Coconut Oil Whiten Teeth, Fact or Fiction?

Updated: Apr 26, 2023

Unfortunately coconut oil pulling cannot whiten your teeth since it is all natural while the only two known whitening ingredients are not. Since it does not contain either hydrogen peroxide nor carbamide peroxide, that makes it physically impossible for it to give you whiter teeth.

Regardless, we will explain how to use this holistic method as well as the alleged claims for how it works. Next we will debunk why it isn't all that it is cracked out to be. Last but not least, we'll conclude with more effective alternative ways to whiten your teeth.

Table of Contents:

How to use coconut oil to whiten teeth

You can use any brand of coconut oil but most people prefer an organic one. This technique utilizes the oil pulling method for the coconut oil.

  1. Scoop a tablespoon of coconut oil.

  2. Place in your mouth.

  3. Swish it in your mouth for a total of 15-20 minutes.

  4. Don't swallow it and spit it back out after you're done.

  5. Rinse your mouth thoroughly with water before you eat or drink.

  6. If you dislike the taste of the oil in your mouth, you can brush and floss.

It is as simple as that, you really don't need any additional ingredients. A tub of coconut oil is all you need. If you're oil pulling in the morning, a lot of people will do other things while such as make breakfast or whatever is a part of your morning routine since you have to pull for at least 15-20 minutes.

Here is a video of how to do it:

Caution: Remember to not swallow the coconut oil that you're using to pull because it is suppose to contain all of the pulled toxins within. Oil pulling practitioners allege that swallowing it can be extremely harmful to your health. Make sure to spit it back out once you're done.

How does coconut oil pulling whiten your teeth

Oil pulling is an ancient ayurvedic practice dating over 3000 years ago. The basic principle behind how it works is that the oil allegedly "pulls" the toxins out of your mouth and supposedly it'll also pull stains out of your enamel to whiten your teeth. A popular choice for oil pulling is coconut oil but you can essentially use any other type of oil as well.

The ayurvedic theory is that the tongue is connected to various organs of your body:

  • Kidney

  • Heart

  • Lungs

  • Small intestine

  • Spine and etc

Therefore, your mouth is basically the window to the rest of your body. Even though you're oil pulling in your mouth, you can still pull the toxins out of the rest of your body through it.

Why coconut oil does not whiten your teeth

It may sound amazing to have an all natural way to whiten your teeth by simply pulling with coconut oil in the morning... but unfortunately reality is a bit different. Coconut oil lacks the capability to remove extrinsic stains and intrinsic stains on your tooth enamel.

Extrinsic stain removal mechanism

The way most whitening toothpastes whiten your teeth is by mechanical removal of extrinsic stains. This is a physical process where the toothbrush with toothpaste will mechanically abrade away any stains that may have adhered to the surface of your enamel.

The mechanical removal process of external stains is similar to scrubbing a table with a sponge and soap. It requires a lot of physical contact to get the stains off.

However, pulling with coconut oil does not generate enough physical force to be able to remove extrinsic stains. Although it may rinse off some food which may be lightly covering your teeth but would you consider that true whitening?

Intrinsic stain removal mechanism

Intrinsic stain removal is what we think of when we whiten our teeth because the process involves chemically oxidizing deeply embedded stains.

What we mean by oxidizing the stain is similar to how you get rid of a white t-shirt with a wine stain on it. You can scrub the t-shirt as much as you want with soap to try to remove the stain but it won't come off. It's not working because you're trying to mechanically remove an extrinsic stain but the stain won't come off because it is an intrinsic stain. To remove an intrinsic stain you need to chemically oxidize it with some bleach or Oxyclean.

There are only two ingredients in this world which can oxidize intrinsic stains and they are hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide. You can check the nutritional label of your coconut oil and see if it contains either of the two. You most likely will not find it because they do not naturally occur in coconut oil.

Therefore, coconut oil lacks the capability to remove intrinsic stains on your enamel because it cannot oxidize the stains.

What can coconut oil do?

Even though coconut oil pulling may not whiten your teeth, it does have a barrage of alleged benefits and its not harmful to your health.

Here are a list of alleged benefits:

  • Activate salivary enzymes. Salivary enzymes can absorb chemical toxins, bacterial toxins, and even environmental toxins.

  • Generate antioxidants. The generated antioxidants can kill bacteria by damaging their cell walls, thus resulting in their death.

  • High saponification index. The coconut oil contains lauric acid which can reduce plaque adhesion along with cleansing 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. Allegedly can increase the body's metabolism, healing, and longevity of the human body.

  • Fights gum disease. Will remove plaque and pull the bacteria which cause gum disease right out of your mouth.

Are any of these claims true?

Some of the claims may be far fetched but we've observed clinically that coconut oil pulling can help fight gum disease. Long term use of coconut oil pulling does seem to decrease gum bleeding and improves gum health.

The reason that it does isn't exactly how the claims state that it works. The reason why it improves gum health is because coconut oil has a neutral to slightly basic pH. Coconut oil pulling for 15-20 minutes is a very long time and if you're rinsing for that long, the oil acts as a buffer solution to raise the pH of your mouth back to neutral.

Having a neutral pH in the mouth is beneficial for gum health and for fighting cavities. It is when the pH of the mouth drops into the acidic range and below the "critical pH" level of 5.5 that cavities start forming. Bacteria are the most active and work the most effectively at acidic pH levels.

Therefore, the majority of the benefits of coconut oil pulling stems from the fact that you're using it as a acid neutralizing buffer solution. It works exceptionally well since you're essentially buffering the mouth for 15-20 minutes!

If you compare it to regular mouthwash, you're only buffering for about a minute at most. Although we just want to point out that if you simply rinsed your mouth with any other mouthwash for the same amount of time, 15-20 minutes you'll probably achieve the same effect.

Better ways to whiten teeth

Hopefully we've made a strong enough argument that coconut oil cannot whiten your teeth. You don't have to be worried about being disappointed because we've alternative ways that can help you whiten teeth. You were reading this article because you were hoping that you can do that right?

Alternative but more effective ways to whiten teeth:

  • Whitening toothpaste - the most accessible way to whiten your teeth. Most of the products will mechanically remove extrinsic stains but there are two toothpastes on the market which can remove intrinsic stains. You should try the Colgate optic white toothpaste or Supersmile brand.

  • Whitening strips - these are flexibile plastic strips that contain hydrogen peroxide. They're available for purchase over the counter at any pharmacy.

  • Whitening pens - a newer product which you use to paint the material on your teeth prior to going to bed. Does contain whitening ingredients.

  • Professional take home kits - one of the professional options but it does cost more than any DIY product. The concentration for these products tend to be higher thus more effective.

  • Professional in office systems - the most potent and effective way to whiten your teeth. The only downside is the cost and also the fact that it requires a trip to the dentist. Some systems use a light while others don't but the results seem to be comparable.

The Verdict

Unfortunately, it is not true that coconut oil whitens teeth. The reasons are that it cannot physically remove external stains nor can it chemically oxidize stains off of your enamel. Since it lacks the capability to do either of those two things, it is unable to make your teeth whiter even if you use it for months!

That is not to say that coconut oil is bad because it does have a surprising amount of benefits and using it as oil pulling may be beneficial for your oral health. It is certainly not harmful so it doesn't hurt to use it as an alternative mouth rinse.

Nonetheless, if you really wanted to whiten your teeth you should explore alternative ways to do it. These other ways that are significantly more effective and will show better results. They don't even have to be expensive either because some do it yourself methods do in fact work. However, if you want a guaranteed result you should consider professional teeth whitening with your dentist.



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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!

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