Oil pulling is rooted in the traditional Indian system of medicine called Ayurveda. Oil pulling involves holding or swishing oil or other medicated liquids in the mouth for preventive and healing purposes. Does oil pulling work? If so, what does it do? Let’s take a look at oil pulling, some scientific studies, anecdotes and whether or not it works.
In this article we’ll address the following sub-topics.
Ayurveda And Oil Pulling
How Oil Pulling Works
Scientific Studies On Oil Pulling
Does Oil Pulling Work?
Ayurveda And Oil Pulling
Historically, oil pulling has been used in India as a holistic approach in preserving oral health. The practice is now seeing a resurgence in popularity.1
The practice is controversial in the world of dentistry because there are limited resources to support its efficacy. However, it is said that it can be used as an adjunct therapy to conventional dental home care therapies to reduce the bacterial load in the oral cavity.1
Oil pulling is growing in popularity because it is cost-effective, easily accessible and contains natural ingredients.1 Since a 1996 newspaper buzz in the Indian newspaper Andhra Jyothi, oil pulling has been gaining more and more attention. The newspaper conducted a survey to find out user experiences regarding the effectiveness of oil pulling. Out of a total of 1041 participants, 927 (89%) reported health benefits. Only 114 (11%) reported no benefit.
The breadth of claims of health benefits in this study have been extraordinary. The survey included the following claims.
- 758 cases with pains in the body
- 191 cases affecting the respiratory system.
- 758 cases with pains in the body
- 191 cases – Respiratory system benefits
- 171 cases – Skin health benefits
- 155 cases – Digestive system benefits
- 137 cases – Elimination benefits
- 91 cases – Joints benefits
- 74 cases – Heart and circulation
- 56 cases – Blood Sugar
- 21 cases – Hormones
- 72 cases – Miscellaneous
Despite the breadth of these claims of health benefits, they are just anecdotal. Further research is needed to substantiate them.
The classical Ayurvedic texts explain the usefulness of oil pulling. The ancient texts do not specifically use the term ‘oil pulling’ but they do have ancient Sanskrit terms that describe the process. One is Gandush which means holding the oil in your mouth. The other term is Kaval and this means swishing or gargling the oil in the mouth. In Ayurvedic literature a variety of different types of kaval and gandush are described and the difference between the two are very interesting.
READ MORE: Will Oil Pulling Help A Toothache?
Gandush: The fill and hold method
In gandush, you fill the liquid or oil in the mouth fully so there’s no movement in your mouth. Your mouth will be completely distended. You completely stretch the muscles of your cheeks. There are several reasons why you do that. This process is very good for your teeth. It releases impurities and toxins.
Kaval: The Gargle Method
Kaval is a process where you take the oil or liquid in your mouth and move it around, gargling it all the way to the back of your throat for a specific amount of time.
Oil Pulling (Kaval and gandush) are both a part of Ayurvedic daily routine or Dinacharya. As a 3000 year old Ayurvedic daily health care ritual, oil pulling is designed to maintain balance and to prevent and treat diseases of the oral cavity. Ayurveda advises oil pulling to purify the entire system. The mouth and tongue are a reflection of the health of the digestive system; therefore, treating the mouth impacts the entire body as different portions of the tongue are related to different organs of the body
The Ayurvedic scholar Charaka mentioned that sesame oil gargling is beneficial for the strength of the jaws, the depth of the voice and flabbiness of the face. It gives excellent sensation and a good taste to the mouth. This gargling prevents dryness of the mouth and throat, cracked lips, tooth caries or toothache or any dental issues.2
The Ayurvedic scholar Sushruta mentioned in his treatise Sushruta Samhita that holding oil or ghee in the mouth removes abnormal taste, foul smell, swelling and stiffness of the mouth. It also provides cheerfulness, firmness of the teeth and a good taste experience of food.3
The Ayurvedic scholar Vagbhata also attributes the same benefits to oil pulling including its importance in improving skin conditions and hair care.4
According to the ancient Ayurvedic texts, there are two distinct categories of oil pulling with different effects, based on the contents of your gandush mixture. Your gandush formula can be either water-soluble or lipid-soluble. The first one is called Sneh gandush and the other one is Kashaya gandush wherein various herbal decoctions are used. Most if not all Sneh gandush (oil pulling substances) are lipid soluble ingredients. Kashaya gandush (herbal decoctions) are water soluble.5 Oil pulling is making headlines as it is becoming very popular but at the same time it is very important to get the prescription right before passing it on.
- In gandush, a large amount of oil, warmed to body temperature, is held in the mouth for three minutes, or until secretions build in the mouth or emerge from the eyes or nose.
- In kaval, one tablespoon of oil, or herbal decoction or warm water is swished around the teeth and mouth, ideally for three to five minutes to begin with. With practice the liquid can be swished in your mouth for 15-20 minutes. The practice concludes by swishing another small amount of preferably warm water to rinse the mouth. This is then spit out. In case of children over five years of age, a teaspoon of oil is used. This oil should not be swallowed, as it contains bacteria and toxins.
The method of oil pulling which is becoming popular is the simpler, swishing method called Kavala.
Sesame oil is specifically mentioned in the ancient Ayurvedic texts for its subtle, penetrating, preventive and curative effects. Modern Ayurvedic practitioners have included other oils with positive results including olive oil, sunflower oil and coconut oil. The Ayurvedic texts tell us that this is best performed on an empty stomach before breakfast, ideally in sunlight, after a warm neck and shoulder massage with warm sesame oil. The place should be devoid of a cool breeze, and it should be performed preferably in a sitting position.
Gandush (holding method) and kavala (swishing method) are generally indicated in all people, except small children below the age of five years and those with Kapha congestion, oral infection, diarrhea, or alcoholism. In these cases, it is better to use warm water. In the event that burning sensations or wounds in the mouth are experienced, use ghee, milk or diluted honey. For mouth ulcers, lukewarm milk or milk with licorice root can be used.
Oil pulling is a traditional practice with myriad benefits. Most sources do agree that oil pulling is safe, but the debate on its effectiveness lingers. More research is needed to substantiate any scientific backing to oil pulling.
Ayurveda recognizes the subtle energy properties of oils and the importance of the tongue with its connections to all the internal organs. Each area of the tongue is connected to a specific organ and meridian system. Oil pulling stimulates these systems to naturally detoxify the body.
Does Oil Pulling Work?
Your saliva has a normal pH of 6.2-7.6 with 6.7 being the average pH. Resting pH of the mouth does not fall below 6.3. The pH of the oral cavity is maintained near neutrality (6.7-7.3) by your saliva. The saliva contributes to maintenance of the pH by two mechanisms. First, the flow of saliva eliminates carbohydrates that could be metabolized by bacteria and removes acids produced by bacteria. Second, acidity from drinks and foods, as well as from bacterial activity, is neutralized by the buffering activity of saliva.6 It’s been observed that oil pulling works on saponification principle. It was also proposed that the alkalis present in the saliva can react with the oil leading to saponification and formation of a soap like substance which can reduce the adhesion of plaque. Coconut oil has a high saponification value and is one of the most commonly used oil in making soaps. The lauric acid in the coconut oil can easily react with sodium hydroxide in saliva during oil pulling to form sodium laureth, the main constituent of soap which might be responsible for the cleansing action and decreased plaque accumulation.7
Oil pulling generates antioxidants which damage the cell wall of microorganisms and kills them.8 These oils will attract the lipid layer of bacterial cell membranes, and cause it to stick or get attracted, and pulled to the oil. During oil pulling, the oil gets emulsified and the surface area of the oil is increased.7 The process of emulsification of oil begins upon 5 minutes of oil pulling. This oil will coat the teeth and gingiva and inhibits bacterial co-aggregation and plaque formation.7 Thus plaque building bacteria responsible for dental caries, gingivitis, periodontitis and bad breath are removed from the oral cavity. Gums become pink, healthier and the problem of bleeding gums is solved.
Oil pulling is also of help to resolve symptoms of dry mouth, dry throat and chapped lips. Also teeth may become whiter; breath may become fresher; oral cavity muscles and jaws become stronger with excellent achievement of oral hygiene.9 Oil pulling when practiced regularly is believed to freshen and stimulate the mind and strengthen the senses. It is also beneficial in sore throat, dry face, impaired vision, taste loss and anorexia.10
Ayurveda considers sesame oil the best among all the oils of plant origin and Acharya Charaka, the ancient Ayurvedic scholar and author of the Ayurvedic text Charaka Samhita, has also prescribed sesame oil for regular oil pulling use. Sesame oil is beneficial for strength of the jaws, depth of voice and excellent taste sensation. He further elaborates that one who regularly practices oil pulling never gets dryness of throat, cracked lips, tooth caries or tooth ache.2
Sesame oil is Vata pacifying (Vata Nashak). It possesses the quality of penetrating deep into the tissue (vyavayi), acts as an antibiotic (krimighna) and has the ability of curing all disease (samskarasarvarogajit).11 The Ayurvedic author and scholar Acharya Sushruta mentions that sesame oil is of igneous nature. It possesses a heating potency, is sweet in taste and post digestive taste, it quickly assimilates, enters minute channels, is non slimy, heavy, spreading in nature, normalizes skin, promotes firmness of body, complexion and strength, pacifies Vata and Kapha.12
According to research, sesame oil contains linoleic acid which is considered antimicrobial, antioxidant, antifungal, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory. Oleic acid is also a major component of sesame oil. These components possess anti-oxidative properties that reduce lipid peroxidation by diminishing free radical injury to oral tissues. It also possesses three lignans, sesamin, sesamolin, and sesaminol. These lignans contain vitamin E and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
On the other hand coconut oil has a high saponification index. It contains lauric acid which can react with alkalis present in saliva such as sodium hydroxide and bicarbonates to form sodium laureth, a soap-like substance which reduces plaque adhesion and accumulation, and possesses a cleansing action.13 Lauric acid has antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory properties, prevents dental caries and is beneficial to oral health. In addition to this it also has a pleasant taste.
Thus, oil pulling works on the principle of saponification. It works as a protective layer. The viscous nature of the oil inhibits plaque accumulation and adhesion of bacteria. The antioxidants present in the oil cause detoxification by preventing lipid peroxidation.
Scientific Studies On Oil Pulling
Does oil pulling work? Here’s what we know.
1. Anand et al in their study observed a 20% reduction in bacterial count upon 40 days of oil pulling using sesame oil. They also observed reductions in the severity of dental caries. Sesame oil was observed to possess moderate antimicrobial activity against S. mutans and L. acidophilus. They mentioned that toxins and bacteria from the body may be removed through the tongue and get trapped in the oil and thrown out from the body.14
2. Four researchers in a study involving 60 adolescents aged 16–18 years with plaque induced gingivitis, observed a statistically significant reduction of plaque and gingival indices upon oil pulling using coconut oil.
Subjects performed oil pulling in the early morning on an empty stomach in addition to their routine oral hygiene measures such as brushing and flossing. They were assessed after four hours of performing oil pulling. Modified gingival index and plaque index by Silness and Loe were measured at baseline and on days 1, 7, 15 and 30. A steady decline in the indices was found from day seven. Plaque and gingival indices significantly decreased after 30 days of oil pulling. The study observed 50% decreases in gingival and plaque indices after four weeks which is comparatively similar to results produced by chlorhexidine. They concluded that oil pulling with coconut oil is helpful in decreasing plaque formation and plaque induced gingivitis.15
3. In a randomized, controlled triple-blind study involving 20, age-matched adolescents, the effect of sesame oil pulling on plaque-induced gingivitis and its efficiency when compared to 0.12% chlorhexidine mouthwash was evaluated for a period of ten days.
Oil pulling was performed everyday for one minute in the morning after tooth brushing. Plaque index scores and modified gingival index scores were recorded at the baseline and after ten days. Plaque samples were collected to evaluate the microorganisms present and to calculate the total colony count of aerobic microorganisms after ten days. The study found statistically significant reduction in the pre- and post-values of the plaque and modified gingival index scores in both groups. Reductions in the total count of aerobic microorganisms were detected in both groups.16
A. Parolia, in a letter to the editor in the British Dental Journal wrote: ‘Oil pulling therapy is found to be very effective even in maintaining oral health for various reasons. Sesame oil is a vegetable fat and when it is acted upon by the salivary alkali, like bicarbonates, the soap making process (saponification) is initiated. Soaps are good cleansing agents because they are effective emulsifying agents. Emulsification is the process by which insoluble fats like sesame oil can be broken down into minute droplets and dispersed in water enhancing the surface area of oil and thereby increasing its cleansing action. The viscosity of oil also helps in the prevention of bacterial adhesion and co-aggregation’.17
Sesame oil is found to have antibacterial activity against S. mutans and Lactobacilli18 and anti-fungal action due to the presence of Chlorosesamone obtained from the roots of sesame.19 Sesame oil contains high amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids which reduce free radical injury to the oral tissues.20 Therefore, oil pulling could be useful for maintaining oral hygiene. Sesame oil has other advantages as it causes no staining, has no lingering aftertaste, and causes no allergic reactions.21
- Oil pulling is an Ayurvedic Indian tradition that’s been around for thousands of years.
- The best thing about this traditional daily ritual is its simplicity. You simply swish the oil in your mouth for about 15-20 minutes and spit it out. Never swallow it.
- While sesame oil is used traditionally, coconut oil is preferable for its antibacterial properties and pleasant taste.
- Oil pulling has been shown to significantly reduce plaque, cavity-causing bacteria and bad breath while improving gum health.
- The best time to do oil pulling is in the morning after you brush your teeth and before eating breakfast, but it can be done at any time. For best results, do oil pulling daily. It is preferably done on an empty stomach.
- Everybody above the age of five years can practice. For children of five years and above, use only a teaspoon (5 ml) of oil. Those with dentures should remove them first. It is safe to practice oil pulling during pregnancy.
- The visible benefits of oil pulling are different for different people. Those who are generally healthy might not notice much difference, but oil pulling can prevent potential teeth and gum problems down the road.
- Lastly, warm salt water rinse after oil pulling helps in cleansing the mouth of toxins expelled through oil pulling and removes the taste of the oil.
So, does oil pulling work? Although oil pulling has several benefits, know that it does not reverse existing dental caries. If practiced regularly however, dental or oral health problems may be prevented. Regular brushing, flossing and dentist visits are still very much required along with the practice of oil pulling. More scientific studies are needed to discover its exact mechanism of action, which could open new doors of research in oral health care.
READ MORE: Nasya Treatment, Nasya Benefits, Nasya Oil
1. Puri, Nividita (2015) “Holistic Approach of Oil Pulling in the Dental World: a literature review”. The Dental Assistant, 20–23.
2. R.K. Sharma, Bhagwan Dash, Charaka Samhita, Sutra Sthana, Vol 1, Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series, Office, Varanasi,2016, verse 78-80, pp 123.
3. P.V. Sharma, Sushruta Samhita, Vol 1, Sutra Sthana, Chowkhamba Vishva Bharati, Varanasi,2013, pp 492.
4. Kaviraj Atridev Gupta, Ashtanga Samgraha, Vol 1, Sutra Sthana, Chowkhamba KrishnaDas Academy, Varanasi,2016, verse-27, pp-25.
5. “Oral Detox with Sneha Gandush • Shaka Vansiya Ayurveda.” Shaka Vansiya Ayurveda, 2 Apr. 2016, www.svayurveda.com/oral-detox-sneha-gandush.
6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC 3800408/]Salivary pH: A diagnostic biomarker Sharmila Baliga, Sangeeta Muglikar, and Rahul Kale
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8. Sood P., Devi M.A., Narang R., V S, Makkar D.K. Comparative efficacy of oil pulling and chlorhexidine on oral malodor: a randomized controlled trial. J Clin Diagn Res. 2014;8 ZC18-21.
9. Ballal, V. “Oil Therapy.” Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 12 Sept. 2009, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19749698.
10. Singh, A, and B Purohit. “Tooth Brushing, Oil Pulling and Tissue Regeneration: A Review of Holistic Approaches to Oral Health.” Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Apr. 2011, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21760690.
11. K.R. Srikantha Murthy, Astanga Hrdayam, sutrasthana, Vol 1(5) verse 55-56, pg-66 Chowkhamba Krishnadas Academy, Varanasi, 2016
12. P.V. Sharma, Sushruta Samhita, Vol 1, Sutra Sthana, Chaukhamba Vishvabharati, Varanasi, 2013, verse 112, pg-438
13. Parolia, A. “Oil Hygiene.” Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 14 Nov. 2009, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19910961.
14. Anand T.D., Pothiraj C., Gopinath R.M., Kayalvizhi B. Effect of oil-pulling on dental caries causing bacteria. Afr J Microbiol Res. 2008;2:63–66.
15.Peedikayil, F C, et al. “Effect of Coconut Oil in Plaque Related Gingivitis – A Preliminary Report.” Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25838632.
16. Asokan, S, et al. “Effect of Oil Pulling on Plaque Induced Gingivitis: a Randomized, Controlled, Triple-Blind Study.” Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19336860.
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21. Asokan, S, et al. “Effect of Oil Pulling on Plaque Induced Gingivitis: a Randomized, Controlled, Triple-Blind Study.” Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19336860.