Sorry, Oil Pulling Does Not Count As Brushing Your Teeth

Photographed by Brayden Olsen.
The coconut oil castle seems to be crumbling down: Just this week the American Medical Association told consumers to limit their use of the stuff in cooking. But that's just the beginning — there are about a million ways to use coconut oil, and we're still figuring out which ones are a good idea. When it comes to oil pulling, however, we know pretty definitively that it's not.
So what the heck is oil pulling? It's definitely not a new trend (it's an ancient Ayurvedic technique), but it's been enjoying a bit of a resurgence over the past few years, thanks in part to good ol' GOOP. And Julie Cho, DMD, a dentist based in NYC, tells R29 that the mouth-cleaning technique is definitely something her patients are asking about frequently.
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Essentially, practitioners swish coconut oil (or sesame oil or sunflower oil) in their mouths for up to 20 minutes, then spit. The practice is thought to pull bacteria and toxins out of your mouth tissues, allegedly preventing tooth decay, gum inflammation, and even heart disease. Some people are such big fans of oil pulling that they do it instead of brushing their teeth.
Unfortunately, none of those benefits have been actually proven. "There is no scientific evidence proving that [oil pulling] kills bad breath, reduces bleeding in the gums, or whitens teeth," Dr. Cho says. That's why the American Dental Association isn't a big fan of the practice.
The theory is that the microorganisms you want to pull out of your teeth (e.g. bacteria) are made up of cells surrounded by a fatty membrane. The fatty oil supposedly attracts those microorganisms to it, which you can then spit out all at once. However, that's not exactly how dental hygiene works. "You need to mechanically go in and debride your mouth of bacteria," Dr. Cho says, meaning that brushing and flossing are still essential.
"What you're really doing is using it as a mouthwash," Dr. Cho explains. And mouthwash isn't bad! But she says you're better off using one that contains fluoride and has been tested and proven to show that it reduces plaque and cavities. (You know, the things a mouthwash is supposed to do.) And, again, using that brisk liquid in tandem with — not instead of — brushing and flossing.
Still, there doesn't seem to be any harm in oil pulling either. So if you're a fan, feel free to keep doing it. "But this is not a substitute for brushing and flossing," Dr. Cho says. "It's just adding more to your regimen." If you want to start your morning with a mouth full of oil or swish it around before bed, go for it. But don't expect it to do anything too magical — and don't forget to spit.
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