Nutrition Notes

The Potential Role of Oil Pulling in Oral Wellness

Oil pulling is a traditional Ayurvedic practice and has been shown in recent research to help promote oral health. It is a practice that involves the swishing of oils such as coconut oil in the mouth for 1-3 minutes to support oral cleanliness and health.

Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) such as caprylic, capric, and lauric triglycerides are derived from coconut oil. MCTs have been shown to support oral health and a healthy inflammatory response. They may also help promote oral hygiene and cleanliness. MCTs have also been shown to support biofilm disruption and a healthy response to certain microbes.

A clinical trial consisting of two arms involved the swishing of either coconut oil or chlorhexidine daily for 30 days in fifty children ages 8 to 12 years. A statistically significant decrease in S. mutans populations in dental plaque and saliva was observed at the study terminus when compared to baseline in both arms. No statistically significant differences in the presence of pathogenic microbes were observed between coconut oil and chlorhexidine.

A pilot study assessed the potential efficacy of coconut oil pulling on markers related to gingivitis. The study involved 60 individuals ages 16 to18 years with plaque-induced gingivitis. Oil pulling daily for 30 days was added to their oral hygiene routine. Statistically significant improvements in dental plaque and gingival indices were noted on day 7 and continued throughout the study. The authors postulate that the significant reduction in gingivitis was attributed to coconut oil’s support of a healthy inflammatory response. However, further studies are required before any associations can be drawn.

A systematic review aggregated data from four randomized controlled clinical studies exploring the potential efficacy of oil pulling with coconut oil on oral health. Studies lasted from 7 to 14 days and involved individuals from 6 to 52 years of age. Oil pulling occurred between 1 and 2 times daily. Outcomes measured included oral microbial levels, S. mutans salivary levels, and indices regarding gingival status, as well as dental stain and plaque. A statistically significant difference in dental plaque index scores was observed in the oil pulling group as compared to the control. One study compared oil pulling with a chlorhexidine rinse and found increased teeth staining in the chlorhexidine group when compared with the oil pulling group. No adverse events were reported in this systematic review.

While more research is needed, particularly in the clinical setting, studies indicate that oil pulling, in conjunction with a normal brushing and flossing routine, may help support oral hygiene and periodontal health. 

By Colleen Ambrose, ND, MAT