The Lowdown on Oil-Pulling

We all love coconut oil. Whatever the question, coconut oil is the answer. It smells divine, is fab in your hair, moisturising for your skin, delicious in food. It can be a shaving cream, make-up remover or a natural deodorant. Its relatively high smoke point makes it great for baking and stir-frying, and it is worshipped as the all-natural vegan butter substitute. Without it, we would have no raw vegan desserts that melt in your mouth. Its high saturated fat content, which once demonised it, is now being embraced. Coconut oil is in. Coconut oil is cool. 

 

I go through a jar of coconut oil a month. It is my manna from the gods. I know 101 things to use it for; I put it on my face and in my hair and in my coffee. When I first heard about oil-pulling, I was (a) shocked that coconut oil was being used in a way I, Queen coconut oil, had never heard of; and (b) desperate to find out more. 

 

The name ‘Oil Pulling’ may be relatively new, but the practise is not. It is an ancient Ayurvedic medicine gargling technique in which you take a tablespoon of oil and swish it about it your mouth for 20 minutes in the morning before you get on with your day. Traditionally, any oil can be used for oil pulling, particularly sesame oil, a staple oil in India. However, with the recent advent of coconut oil into the mainstream, it has been the oil of choice due to its supposed ‘antibacterial properties’. 

 

And the perks? Oil Pulling is meant to improve your dental health, reduce inflammation, dry mouth and plaque build-up.  It eliminates bad breath, whitens your teeth, prevents cavities and healed cracked lips. Or, this is what it is marketed as being able to do. In Ayurvedic medicine, however, it is said to be able to do more than just that. Instead of improving just your dental health, oil pulling is meant to purify your entire system, as each section of the tongue is believed to be connected to a different organ—your liver, your stomach, your heart… 

 

I decided to put this to the test. My dental health wasn’t poor, but if my beloved coconut oil had the ability to make my pearly whites even pearlier, who was I to say no? I decided to use a mix of sesame and coconut, along with a few drops of essential oil to make it more palatable. As much as I loved coconut oil, I predicted that gargling it for 20 minutes would start to get boring. Every day for my weeklong experiment, I made the following mixture first thing in the morning:

 

½ tbsp. unrefined coconut oil (mine was liquid because of the hot climate I was in)

½ tbsp. cold pressed sesame oil 

2-3 drops of an essential oil, I mixed it up to keep things interesting.

 

After gargling it (gently! We don’t want any sore jaws), you are meant to spit it out in the trash. If you do so in the sink, it may harden up and clog it. That was not a worry for me in my 32C weather, but I stuck to the rules. Then you floss and brush, never replace your entire dental hygiene regime with just oil pulling!

 

And now! The results:

 

Day 1: Woke up with a bit of a toothache, but that’s the price you have to pay for getting wiser #teamwisdomtooth. So I used clove oil, which is meant to have a numbing effect on any toothaches. I am not going to lie, it was tough. I have the attention span of a goldfish, I got bored, very quickly. I tried to distract myself with instagram, tumblr and pinterest. Nothing worked. It felt like I was gargling for 2 days. 10 minutes in, and it was feeling a bit gross. I wasn’t the biggest fan of cloves, and the three strong, incredibly distinct flavours in my mouth early in the AM wasn’t peachy. When I was done, I spat it out, rinsed my mouth out 15 times. Made a few grossed-out sounds and went on with my day.

 

 

Day 2: Woke up, smiled at myself in the mirror, half expecting to be blinded with my super shiny new smile, but was greeted by the same, groggy, bed head self. No noticeable improvement in whiteness or morning breath. My toothache was noticeable absent today, but I was unsure of whether this was because of yesterday’s oil-pulling or just if the ache was having one of its rather frequent off-days. Used peppermint oil instead today a la toothpaste. I thought if I was more familiar with it, I would hate it less. And it was more tolerable.

 

Day 3: Again, sadly not blinded by a million-dollar smile this morning. Used orange oil (yes, I have an extensive essential oil collection). For some reason, I really struggled to keep swishing it about, and nearly gagged several times. I tried tilting my head down as I gargled so that it wouldn’t reach the back of my throat but I had to stop after 15 minutes. 

 

Day 4: Back to peppermint oil today since it seemed to work. I felt a bit more comfortable doing it today, and managed the full 20 minutes. After rinsing with water I checked my teeth pre-brushing. They seemed to have a lot less plaque on them than days before. Feeling more motivated, flossed and brushed those buggers before getting on with breakfast (coconut oil coffee, of course) 

 

Day 5: Peppermint oil again. I felt like an old pro at this. Swished it about my mouth as I replied an email while watching a youtube video on a coconut oil sun cream. As you can see, it was a super productive 20 minutes. I am a scientist, I am very aware of the misleading placebo effect, but my teeth are beginning to feel cleaner. They feel whiter! I wish I had taken a before picture of my teeth. Even if they aren’t any different, it did make me a lot more confident. So a nice long clap for oil-pulling, please.

 

Day 6: Tried a risky almond oil today, I liked it but peppermint would still be my oil of choice. Tasted very much like my tahini almond cake. Felt very hungry post-oil pulling, but did not have cake for breakfast, as I am a sensible adult. So I had chocolate rice pops. 

 

Day 7: My last day! Toothache still gone! Back to my old buddy peppermint oil, but before getting started I gave my teeth a proper inspection. They looked good! There wasn’t much plaque on them, but it could be just what I ate the day before.

 

Conclusion: Although my teeth did not transform into a shiny, reflective, dazzling smile, I liked it. Would I continue oil-pulling? Probably, but not daily. I could see myself doing it once a week, but as someone who likes sleeping in but has classes lined up from 9am, I really have minimal prep time in the morning.  Also I could see how doing this everyday could get really dull. While the results weren’t jaw-dropping, it did make me feel a lot more confident, and it made me feel like I gave my teeth a lot more TLC than I actually did. On the other hand, I didn’t feel any other non-dental changes, I wasn’t sleeping any better or having better digestion, and I am sceptical that it ever would. Would I recommend it to a friend? Sure! Try it out for a couple of days and see how you like it. I can see it being a great mouthwash replacement. I know people who swear by oil pulling and enjoy doing it. Everybody’s different. If you are even the slightest bit interested in giving this a whirl (pun intended) for yourself, go for it! As for me, I now know 102 things to do with coconut oil.

Sasha is a med student by day, crazy cat lady at night, and passionate vegan 24/7. She made the decision to go plant based for both health and ethical reasons, and has never looked back since. The madness behind the instagram @thesashadiaries, she is determined to convince everyone that being a plant-based vegan is definitely not boring!