The Detox Toolbox: Oil Pulling

olive oilI have this funny thing that happens to me sometimes…I’ve written about it before…when I first see or hear about something that I have never seen or heard about before, it peaks my interest, and then all of a sudden I start hearing, seeing, reading about whatever it is everywhere. That’s what happened to me after I saw Meyer lemons for the first time, and it’s happened a few time since then. Most recently, it happened with oil pulling.


I was in the middle of a session with one of my health coaching clients and we were talking about detoxification. This particular client is really open minded and has done a lot of her own research on alternative/holistic therapies and I’ve probably learned as much from her as she has from me. Anyway, she asked me if I knew anything about oil pulling and how effective it is. Well at that point I was not very familiar with it, although I had skimmed over it in some of my books. I told her I’d check into it.

Later that week, I happened to be on Facebook and I saw a discussion in one of my holistic nutrition groups about oil pulling! I read through the comments and saw that many people absolutely swore by it, although a few others had not seen any improvement at all; but there was definitely some good info there. Another day that same week, I happened to be listening to an Ayurveda class while jogging around the track during my daughter’s dance class (multitasking!!), and what did the lecturer happen to mention? Oil pulling of course. So I decided it was time to do what I always do when this happens: take it as a sign to write about it. So here we go.

What is oil pulling?

Oil pulling is actually really simple:  take a tablespoon of oil (traditionally sesame or sunflower, but I’ve read that coconut and olive oils work fine as well) and swish around in your mouth thoroughly for several minutes, then spit it out. The theory is that the oils will “pull” the toxins from your body out of the mouth tissue, teeth, saliva, etc. and which will then be spit out. After 6 to 8 weeks of doing this daily, you should see results, though some report positive results sooner.

Although the act of oil pulling itself is simple, there are some “rules” to abide by:

While they brush and go about their morning routine, you can swish.
While they brush and go about their morning routine, you can swish.

Do your oil pulling first thing in the morning before eating, drinking, or brushing your teeth.

Swish for 20 minutes. I know this seems like a REALLY long time. Especially in the morning. Well if you are as busy in the morning as I am, then you probably have as many tasks to do as I do. During those 20 minutes I write my morning pages, make the kids’ lunches, help them get dressed, fed, groomed, and ready for school; or I get myself dressed and as ready as much as I can with my mouth full of oil. If it’s not a school day and we are not rushing around I just swish while I read or write. It can be done.

No swallowing! The theory is that if you swallow, you are re-ingesting the very toxins you are trying to get rid of. Very small amounts swallowed by accident won’t hurt, but if you feel your mouth is getting too full, you should either spit out a small amount and keep swishing or spit it out and put fresh oil in for the duration of the time.

Don’t gargle it. You don’t want to risk swallowing or choking by pulling up any excess mucus. Just swish really thoroughly…through the teeth, top and bottom, side to side…every nook and cranny.

Once you are finished, make sure you get all of that stuff out of your mouth…you don’t want any lingering germs or other yucky stuff left behind. Use a tongue scraper (your tongue will most likely be coated), brush your teeth thoroughly, and swish or gargle with mouthwash or warm salt water.

Why do oil pulling at all?

There are some pretty impressive claims of health benefits associated with oil pulling. Some of the most common health issues oil pulling has been claimed to improve are:

• Mouth and gum disease
• Stiff joints and arthritis
• Respiratory issues such as allergies, asthma, and bronchitis
• High blood sugar and diabetes
• Constipation
• Migraines
• Skin issues like eczema and dry, cracked heels
• Heart, kidney, lung diseases
• Leukemia and other forms of cancer
• Meningitis
• Insomnia
• Menopause (hormonal issues)
• AIDS
• Chronic infections
• Cardiovascular issues like varicose veins and high blood pressure
• Polio

That covers pretty much everything, doesn’t it?

Is this true, does oil pulling actually work?

oilsOf course there are many differing views on whether or not oil pulling actually works by pulling toxins out through the mouth. Many detox experts and practitioners of various holistic modalities argue that you cannot detoxify the entire body just through one area.

Yet there are too many people who have seen dramatic improvements to dismiss this practice as simple good luck or even label it as a placebo effect. I found a great explanation from Jon Barron of the Baseline of Health Foundation who notes that poor dental health (varying degrees of gum disease and tooth decay) caused by inadequate hygiene and poor diets is also responsible for causing many of the aforementioned ailments. In fact, “about 75 percent of Americans have gum disease and don’t know it.

Barron’s thought is that oil pulling probably does not actually pull toxins from the body and cure diseases, but it can definitely help remove harmful bacteria, yeasts, and other germs from the mouth that contribute to gum disease. This happens because the oils themselves have naturally occurring antibacterial properties. Also, since oil is slippery in nature, it can get into places where toothbrushes, floss, even more advanced tools like Water Piks and dental scrapers, cannot: the pockets that form in the gums around the roots of the teeth. That doesn’t mean that oil pulling is a substitute for brushing, flossing, and getting regular dental cleanings/check-ups. These pockets form naturally with age, but are made worse when bacteria collect in them and cause inflammation which ultimate leads to disease. Swishing with oil for 20 minutes daily apparently can clean out these pockets and help to keep the bacteria out.

What are my thoughts about oil pulling?

Those of you who know me well know that I am kind of obsessed with teeth and dental hygiene in general, so I was all about trying oil pulling for myself. It took me a couple of days to be able to swish for 20 minutes straight…I did have to spit and add more oil (I used sesame), and I had to adjust my morning routine to fit it in before eating and brushing. At first I did notice that my gums actually felt sore. This lasted for a few days, but then got better. I attributed this to the germs and toxins in my gums being aggravated and not being removed fast enough (similar to what happens when you do an internal detox if you cannot eliminate the loosened toxins fast enough). You can’t get everything out with just one time. The soreness went away after a couple of days though and my mouth felt fine. I also want to report that my teeth and mouth seemed to stay cleaner throughout the day and seemed less slimy before my bedtime brushing.

As for my thoughts on whether or not oil pulling actually removes toxins I tend to agree with Barron; however I would like to say that the mouth is the beginning of the digestive system; and we know that 70 percent of the body’s immune system is located in the digestive tract. We also know that 95 percent of degenerative diseases can be traced back to the digestive system, particularly the colon. If there is dysbiosis (imbalance of “good” and “bad” bacteria and yeasts) in the digestive system, it would certainly be in the mouth and gums as well. Conversely, if there is dysbiosis in the mouth and gums, it is likely that there are also issues in the other organs and tissues of the digestive system. Pulling germs, yeasts, and other toxins out of the mouth itself (in my opinion) could definitely contribute to the detoxification of the digestive tract (although I don’t feel it would get the job done alone).

teethAs far as how many days or weeks you have to do it for, I don’t think you can just do it for a couple of months and then stop. We are constantly barraged by toxins from the environment and the body produces its own toxins as byproducts of its daily functions. It might not be necessary to do it every morning after the first couple of months, but I still think it should be done on a regular basis.

Holistic dentistry is very interesting to me, and I plan to write more on that topic in the future since oral health has such an impact on the overall health of the rest of the body. Oil pulling costs next to nothing and really takes very little time, so I encourage you to give it a try.

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