Oil pulling is a great example of something that appears to be a trendy new wellness practice, but is actually rooted in the ancient tradition, Ayurveda. Like the other integrative approaches we cover in the first Pillar of our Certified Nutritional Aesthetics Practitioner® Training Program, oil pulling may seem a bit out-of-the-box at first, but has the potential to give your skin health routine a big boost.

What is oil pulling?

oil pulling as part of oral care regimenThe act of oil pulling is actually really simple. You take a tablespoon of oil (traditionally sesame or sunflower, but many people use olive or other edible carrier oils they have on hand in the kitchen) and swish it around in your mouth thoroughly for several minutes, and 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., which will are then eliminated when you spit it all out. After 6 to 8 weeks of doing this daily, you should experience results, though some report positive results sooner.

There are some pretty lofty health claims 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? At the Nutritional Aesthetics® Alliance, we shy away from making claims like these, because different practices work differently for different people. We don’t like to give people false hope that they will experience a miraculous result just because other people have. And in all honestly, there’s very little evidence–anecdotally or clinically–that can prove that oil pulling is the ONLY practice that people who experienced dramatic results were doing.

How does oil pulling actually work?

close-up on woman's beautiful smileThere 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. Jon Barron, of the Baseline of Health Foundation, 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.”


What oil pulling can and can’t do

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 antimicrobial 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; such as the pockets that form in the gums around the roots of the teeth.

These pockets form naturally with age, but are made worse when pathogens and undigested food collect in them and cause inflammation, which ultimate leads to disease. Swishing with oil for 20 minutes daily can help clean out these pockets and help to keep the bacteria out by providing lubrication which may prevent future accumulation.

The mouth is the beginning of the digestive system; and we know that majority of the body’s immune function is rooted in the digestive tract. We also know that the root cause of most skin issues such as acne, rosacea, eczema can be traced back to imbalances or dysfunction in the digestive tract. If there is dysbiosis (imbalance or lack of biodiversity within the microbiota) in the digestive system, then dysbisis is likely present 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.

Oil pulling best practices

oil for oil pulling with copper tongue scraperAlthough the act of oil pulling itself is simple, there are some “rules” to abide by:

  1. Do your oil pulling first thing in the morning before eating, drinking, or brushing your teeth.
  2. Swish for 20 minutes. This may seem like a REALLY long time, especially in the morning! We encourage you to use these 20 minutes for your morning tasks such as writing your morning pages, getting the kids ready for school; or checking your own appointment or task list for the day. It can be done!
  3. 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.
  4. 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, and side to side to clean out every nook and cranny.
  5. Once you are finished, make sure clean out your mouth. You don’t want any lingering germs or residue left behind. Use a tongue scraper (your tongue will most likely be coated), brush your teeth thoroughly, and swish or gargle with warm salt water.

Please note: oil pulling is a substitute for brushing, flossing, and getting regular dental cleanings/check-ups.

Oil pulling likely won’t perform a detox miracle on its own.

However, we love it because it is a simple and affordable practice that can easily be implemented into one’s daily routine that is known to provide some sort of benefit, without harm. It is something about your routine that you can control. Small changes, done consistently are often what lead to the most significant outcomes!

Do you have experience with oil pulling?

Is it something you do personally, or recommend to your clients? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below!