The Real Deal on Oil Pulling Plus Other Oral Fixations

Oil pulling. Maybe you don’t know what that is because you don’t scroll through the internet like it’s your job? It sounds like what a dastardly comic book villain would do to hold the world ransom. All the world except for Prius owners; they would be safe.

The Real Deal On Oil Pulling Plus Other Oral Fixations

But really, it is an old (maybe ancient) folk remedy where you swish a spoonful of sesame or coconut oil around in your mouth for a random twenty minutes and then spit it out. According to legend (the internet), your mouth will be healthier and your chances of winning the lottery will increase ten fold, but you won’t care because you’ll be sneezing diamonds.

Okay, maybe not all that, but there are lavish claims about how it pulls the toxins out your body curing everything from dry hair to arthritis to MS.

Um, nope.

First: Your gums are not semi-permeable membranes, nothing is getting pulled from your bloodstream through them. Thank goodness.

Second: Toxins just aren’t hanging out in your body. Your kidneys and liver make sure of that. Let’s give them the respect they deserve for all of their hard filtering work. Send them a thank you card or a pajamagram. Nothing says appreciation like a pajamagram.

All jesting aside, there is a connection between oral health and general health that all comes down to bacteria. Periodontal disease has been linked to coronary heart disease and anyone with heart valve issues must take antibiotics before getting dental work. When I was training as an OB/GYN, we were very concerned if our patients had bad teeth because it could be a risk factor for preterm labor.

So a healthy, clean mouth is not just a tag line for chewing gum, it’s important. And get this, oil pulling has been shown to reduce the bacterial count and inflammation in your mouth. The studies were small because, let’s face it, there are bigger fish to fry in terms of research dollars, but oil pulling is a pretty low risk endeavor. There is one study in India that used adolescent boys to compare mouthwash to oil pulling.

Choosing teen boys for a cleanliness study is kind of funny, right?

Anyway, it was found that both the mouthwash and oil pulling groups showed reduced bacterial counts, but the mouthwash group showed significant reduction in twenty-four hours, while the oil pulling group showed reduction after one week.

This is where my Little Scientific Soul trotted out to the barn to get her high horse. Why, WHY, would you oil pull when mouthwash was so much more efficient? It just didn’t make sense. A mouthful of gooey oil or two teaspoons of modern miracle?

And I was all poised to write about the ridiculousness of it all when my Little Scientific Soul paused from saddling up that horse and admonished, “Should you really knock it without trying it?”

I knew I had coconut oil somewhere. It took some serious cabinet diving, but I found it hanging out with the flax seeds and agave syrup gossiping about how I needed to lay off the Cheez-its.

On to the pulling! The general procedure is to take a tablespoon to a teaspoon of the oil and swish for twenty minutes.

I chose one teaspoon and had at it. By the way, you might be picturing this wrong. Coconut oil is a solid at room temperature, with a fluffy consistency and a pleasant aroma. Not drippy or greasy at all.

It must be delicious. It says so on the label.

It must be delicious. It says so on the label.

Here’s the re-enactment:

Swish, swish, swish. This is okay. Swish, swish, swish. Tick, tock, tick, tock. Okay. Swish. Tick, tock. I’m gonna be sick. Spit. Sputter. Wow that was a loooonnng minute.

I made it one minute before I thought I was going to hurl. I thought, “That’s it. Oil pulling sucks.” And then I thought about how much I how to dig around to find the oil, so I checked the jar.



Word to the wise: Coconut oil five years past it’s expiration date might be a little nasty.

I’m a good scientist, if not a good housekeeper, so I tried again with fresh reagents.

With non-rancid oil, the pulling was not so bad. In fact, it was more than borderline pleasant. I tried to return to my usual swishing with Listerine after my oil pulling “experiment” and I couldn’t stand it. It felt like burning acid. And if I’m being honest, I never really used the mouthwash frequently anyway. Maybe because it was like burning acid.

However, there is no magic here. In my (non-extensive) literature search, I found indications that both coconut and sesame oils may have antibacterial/antifungal properties, but I could not find conclusive evidence that they work on the types of bacteria in the mouth. Most of the benefits of pulling probably come from increased attention to oral hygiene, the mechanics of swishing, and the bacteria becoming emulsified and removed.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Amount: You REALLY only need a teaspoon. I feel like it’s called pulling because it pulls a TON of saliva into your mouth. After about a minute, it’s really like swishing water, that is, if your oil is not rancid.
  • Type: Some people use sesame, some use coconut. Some get worked up over types: refined, unrefined, cold-pressed, or virgin. As I said above, the benefits are probably from the mechanics of it, so pick what tickles your tonsils.
  • Time: There is no research saying twenty minutes is best. It’s arbitrary and surprisingly tiring. I do five to ten and call it a successful swish.
  • Disposal: Spit it in the trash. Remember coconut oil is a solid at room temperature. Not good for the pipes and weird to explain to the plumber.
  • Swallowing: <Insert joke here.> Lots of articles make a big deal about NOT SWALLOWING THE TOXINS. But remember, you’re not drawing out any toxins and your stomach acid is pretty fierce, so if you swallow a little, you’re okay. Really.

So I’m a convert. Cue the choirs and stable my high horse for another day. But I felt unsatisfied. I was ready to roast some quackery! Lucky for you, my internet research threw these Pinterest Pintershizz gems in my path.  Soooooo . . .

Oral Atrocities to Ridicule of Instead of Oil Pulling

1. iPhone Case

Maybe this is funny in a quirky sort of way if you’re a dentist or hygienist?? Maybe?? It is definitely a bad call–pun intended and relished–for a funeral director. And does the background of this picture look like a prison?

Pinterest Source

Pinterest Source

2. Hair Accessories

Even if you thought the phone case was kind of kitschy, you CANNOT think these are acceptable. Even the tooth fairy couldn’t pull these off unless she was ditching the pixie dust and preparing for her debut on Criminal Minds.

Pintereset Source

Pintereset Source

3. Tiny Portraits

These are real teeth. With portraits etched on them. Really. random. portraits.

Pinterest Source

Pinterest Source

4. Jewelry

For those people who are all like, “What am I going to do with a bowl full of tiny teeth portraits? Give me something I can use.”

Pinterest Source

Pinterest Source

5. That Which Should Not Be Allowed

For the evangelists amongst us who not only love oil pulling, but want the world to see! Like a washing machine, except totally and horrifically different.

Pinterest Source

Pinterest Source


Whew, I feel better now! These photos did what no amount of oil pulling could: flush the judgmental snark out of my system.

So what is your opinion of oil pulling?



Follow us on Pinterest and then check out some of the other Pintershizz we found there.

Order your copy of “I Just Want to Be Alone” here.  Hilarious stories about the men in our lives.

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By Ellen Williams Erin Dymowski



30 Responses to “The Real Deal on Oil Pulling Plus Other Oral Fixations”

  1. Kathy at kissing the frog
    March 23, 2014 at 3:42 pm #

    I am never going to be able to unsee that last picture, so thanks…
    Kathy at kissing the frog recently posted..Teaching Kids Fire Safety: A Parent’s Peace of MindMy Profile

    • The Sisterhood
      March 24, 2014 at 11:33 am #

      THAT is the response I was looking for Kathy! :) Ellen

  2. Toulouse
    March 23, 2014 at 3:46 pm #

    Photo number 5 just made me throw up in my mouth. I’m not even kidding.
    Oil pulling is tedious and I’m not convinced it’s doing a single thing except giving me something to make fun of. That being said, I’ve done it several times and even did it live on twitter. Obvs, I have too much time on my hands.
    Love the funny teeth portraits! Now I know what I’m getting my husband for his birthday. Now, how to get one of his teeth out without him knowing it. Ah, yes…ambien.
    Toulouse recently posted..Give Me 20 Minutes #liveoilpullingMy Profile

    • The Sisterhood
      March 24, 2014 at 11:43 am #

      Please check out her link to the #liveoilpulling faithful readers! It is good times and the next step to becoming indoctrinated. :)

      So if you had the lip window, we would be able to see the throw up in your mouth. Yet, another strike against it. (As if strikes were hard to find.)


  3. Meredith
    March 23, 2014 at 4:27 pm #

    You are smart and perfect. God love you for breaking it down like it is, still throwing out terms like “reagents”, and then showing pictures of teeth combs. xo.
    Meredith recently posted..Happy Launch Eve!My Profile

    • The Sisterhood
      March 24, 2014 at 11:44 am #

      We practice knowledge and entertainment without borders (or maybe boundaries). ;) Ellen

  4. Courtney
    March 23, 2014 at 4:31 pm #

    Way to go for trying it first! Mouthwash really hurts my mouth. It burns and feels like it’s eating away my skin. I have a really sensitive mouth with a geographic tongue. Anyway, I think that’s why I like oil pulling. I have that clean feeling without the burn.
    Courtney recently posted..The stories you never forgetMy Profile

    • The Sisterhood
      March 24, 2014 at 11:45 am #

      I love you and your geographic tongue, Courtney! Ellen

  5. Jen Snyder
    March 23, 2014 at 5:53 pm #

    Ah, but you see I really love the tingling feeling of Listerine. It’s like proof that its working. I did read that oil pulling whitens teeth, though so its tempting to try it out to see if that is true. Because everything you read on the internet is true, right?
    Jen Snyder recently posted..Passionate Moms: Angela RoseMy Profile

    • The Sisterhood
      March 24, 2014 at 11:47 am #

      Hey, the research and I fully support Listerine. It works! (P.S. – I think there is a Listerine whitening formula.) Ellen

  6. Southern Angel
    March 23, 2014 at 7:25 pm #

    I have seen several articles on Oil pulling and I have thought to try it. I do have coconut oil.. so I may do it. Like you mouthwash kills my mouth.. I can even only use certain kinds of toothpaste because of the way they burn me… hmmmm
    Southern Angel recently posted..Admit it you keep me around for the adorable grandbabyMy Profile

    • The Sisterhood
      March 24, 2014 at 11:48 am #

      If you already have the oil (and it’s not expired), might as well try it. :) Ellen

  7. wendy
    March 23, 2014 at 9:47 pm #

    I need to get into this again. I better check the expiration date on my jar too! Ew, gross.
    wendy recently posted..Project Tank TopMy Profile

    • The Sisterhood
      March 24, 2014 at 11:49 am #

      That is step one to successful oil pulling. :) Ellen

  8. Amy Flory
    March 23, 2014 at 10:30 pm #

    A sensible, doctory opinion on oil pulling would have made me happy, but one that included a bonus gift of a David Letterman face tooth? I’m downright giddy!
    Amy Flory recently posted..Relationship Advice from the Funniest Women on the InternetMy Profile

    • The Sisterhood
      March 24, 2014 at 11:51 am #

      Can you imagine how long it took to do those portraits?? The falcon IS pretty darn majestic, not that Letterman is not majestic. I would never imply that. Ellen

  9. Sara
    March 23, 2014 at 11:39 pm #

    I am just so chuffed that I seemed to be ahead of the curve on something. FINALLY. I did a little experiment on this a while ago. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it either. Come give it a read,

    Also I’ll be waiting on an apology for that last photo. What’s been seen can never be unseen.

  10. sadiej14
    March 24, 2014 at 11:00 am #

    Will try at some point.

    Very curious why it was Indian boys?

    I am a strong feminist, and thanks to an Indian woman who I am friends with thanks to the internet, I have heard quite a bit about girls in India.

    So, just would like all to think about that and question that along with me.

    Thanks again for the tip.

    • The Sisterhood
      March 24, 2014 at 11:32 am #

      Hmmmm, I’m not sure about these rumors you speak of, but the research was done in India because the researchers were from Meenakshi Ammal Dental College, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India. Ellen

  11. Ginger Kay
    March 24, 2014 at 1:13 pm #

    Thank you for debunking the crazy on this one! I was thinking about buying some coconut oil today, but for popcorn, not for dental hygiene.

  12. Jenn @ Something Clever 2.0
    March 24, 2014 at 3:55 pm #

    Re: Number Five- WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY????????

    Fine, you win, you’ve found something dumber than oil pulling. I will call you when I wake up from my nightmare at 3am. Oh, and again, WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY?????
    Jenn @ Something Clever 2.0 recently posted..Top 9 Worst Places for Kids to Tag AlongMy Profile

  13. jessica
    March 24, 2014 at 8:11 pm #

    Ok. I’m having a really hard time wrapping my mind around the logistics of #5. What happens when you are eating and chewing? Is food falling out of your lip hole at the dinner table? So sexy. What about soup? COFFEE?? What does it feel like when your lower gums are all dried out? You’re not meant to feel a breeze there… mind boggled.
    jessica recently posted..Bite-Size Snark In Suburban HaikuMy Profile

  14. Mercy
    March 25, 2014 at 10:35 am #

    I tried oil pulling the first time a few months ago after reading about the benefits of it. I had a very bad cavity at the time, and I found the pain would go away after pulling. I also found it helped my breath smell better and my mouth feel cleaner. I usually do it before bed and then brush my teeth afterwards, ’cause I don’t like the lingering taste in my mouth.
    Mercy recently posted..PackingMy Profile

  15. Liz
    March 25, 2014 at 1:38 pm #

    For the love of all that’s holy what was that last picture. The tooth-combs for the hair are pretty creepy too. I have to admit to liking the little teeth portraits tho!
    Liz recently posted..Zoe vs. the Monster and the Ghost (and to a Lesser Extent, the Dragon and the Dinosaur)My Profile

  16. Julie
    March 27, 2014 at 10:10 am #

    I think there are many things that people used to use for various reasons. I tend to agree, swishing water around your mouth for 20 minutes would probably do the same thing. Or a baking soda concoction. Or even peroxide. Yes. Really. Read the label. I just can’t make myself put peroxide in my mouth, but I bet it would work a lot better than coconut oil.

    Is picture 5 real?? naw, can’t be.

    Thanks for a witty read!

    • The Sisterhood
      March 27, 2014 at 10:09 pm #

      It does say that on the label of hydrogen peroxide, but it also says to use it under the advice of a doctor or dentist. The FDA has approved 3% solutions of hydrogen peroxide for use as a mouthwash, but most sources indicate to use it only for a short time, such as part of a treatment for a mouth infection. Some studies have shown that it may actually weaken the teeth when used on a consistent basis.

      And I hope picture #5 is not real. Can you imagine if it sprung a leak? :) Ellen

  17. Jane @ The Borrowed Abode
    April 26, 2014 at 10:12 pm #

    Loved hearing you ladies tonight at LTYM Baltimore. And I’m thrilled to see this actually well-thought-out take on oil pulling. Science? Research? Data? Who knew bloggers could actually reference such things when assessing a tip or technique? :)
    I have to say that I always rolled my eyes at the outrageous claims about oil pulling and “toxin removal” but I do it from time to time and like it much better than Listerine. Listerine, btw, may not be so great for gum health in the long run, because it’s so harsh. My mother said something about her dentist worrying about oral cancer and Listerine.
    But I digress.

    When I do oil pulling, I can never do it for more than 7 or 8 min. Even at that length of time, it feels like a major workout. Does this mean my mouth is out of shape? I have to wonder.
    Jane @ The Borrowed Abode recently posted..7 DIY Rug Options for Renters Or the NoncommittalMy Profile

    • The Sisterhood
      April 27, 2014 at 8:22 am #

      Jane, I am so glad you enjoyed the show. We loved being part of it. Glad you enjoyed the Oil Pulling post too. Erin

  18. A.S.
    August 20, 2014 at 5:57 am #

    The toxins being pulled are from the mouth, such as mercury.

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