Understanding Oil Pulling

Oil pulling has had a lot of positive press recently, fuelled in no small part by celebrities extolling its virtues. And then there are the inevitable claims for the fantastic cures. But oil pulling with coconut oil is a simple oral health technique that works and has valuable benefits.

Although oil pulling can be done with any edible oil for some benefit, we recommend virgin organic coconut oil for the best results. Coconut oil is comprised primarily (~50%) of lauric acid, and about 5-9% capric and caprylic acid respectively. All three have potent anti-microbial activity against gram negative and gram positive oral microorganisms.1 Capric acid is known as a potent anti-fungal as well, specifically effective against candida Albicans.

Although the process is called oil pulling, likely because the health benefits pass beyond the oral cavity, the name is unfortunate because the oil does not actually pull toxins out of the body. Here's what does happen when you put between one teaspoon to one tablespoon in your mouth, and swish it around:

  1. Saponification
    Mix oil with an alkali, and soap is created. Your saliva is a mild alkaline solution. When mixed with the coconut oil, a process known as saponification happens—you create a mild detergent in your mouth. The detergent provides a cleaning effect, breaking down the microbial biofilm that forms as a layer on your teeth.
  2. Disinfection
    Free fatty acids are released by the chemical interaction of saponification. These free fatty acids are the anti-microbial action of the coconut oil, and take on the pathogenic organisms in your mouth. Since the required quantity of fatty acids for an inhibitory concentration at 80% is measured in micro-molars, one teaspoon of coconut oil is more than enough to get the party started.
  3. Mechanical Cleaning
    The swishing also has a mechanical effect, as food particles and bacterial film are dislodged and carried away from the tooth enamel.

There is some evidence that oil molecules interacting with the pellicle, the layer that immediately forms after cleaning the teeth, provide additional protection in that they increase the difficulty of forming a new biofilm, but more investigative work needs to be done in this regard.

By cleaning the oral cavity, and reducing the bacterial load, other benefits can accrue. Besides cleaner teeth, accomplished oil pullers report cleared sinuses, increased energy, and lower inflammation levels. These all make sense. Scientists have already linked oral health to heart disease through microbial interaction. Reducing the load of pathogenic bacteria in the oral cavity can only have positive effects on one's health.

Our readers tell us they prefer DME™ Coconut Oil as the best oil for oil pulling. Since DME™ is the freshest oil you can buy, with a smoother taste and a higher anti-microbial activity, that makes sense, too.

1 Short- and medium-chain fatty acids exhibit antimicrobial activity for oral microorganisms, CB Huang et al, Archives of Oral Biology, July 2011; 56(7): 650–654

Lipids in Preventative Dentistry, A Kensche et al, Clinical Oral Investigations, April 2013, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 669-685

Effect of oil pulling on plaque induced gingivitis: a randomized, controlled, triple-blind study, S Asokan et al, Indian Journal of Dental Research Jan-Mar 2009; 20(1):47-51

Chris Gursche
Chris Gursche


Chris Gursche learned about naturally healthy living around the kitchen table, whether he wanted to or not. He is currently product trainer for Alpha Health

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