Is Coconut Oil Pulling Beneficial or Dangerous?

coconut oil butter in wooden spoon and nut on white background

If you’re into anything natural, you’ve probably heard about a popular dental trend referred to as “oil pulling” or “coconut pulling.” The idea behind the benefits of oil pulling is that you’re creating an environment with natural antibacterial properties to help combat gum disease, bad breath, and even tooth decay. And while it might seem safe, there are also some well-known coconut oil pulling dangers that you need to be aware of.

What is Coconut Oil Pulling?

Oil pulling or coconut oil pulling is where you take coconut oil—which is actually a solid at room temperature—and put it in your mouth. But not to eat. What happens is your body’s naturally warm temperature melts the coconut oil into a liquid. As it does, you essentially “pull” the coconut oil around and between your teeth, similar to the way you would if you were swishing mouthwash around.[1]

Daily or weekly oil pulling with coconut oil isn’t meant to replace brushing or flossing. Rather, it’s used as a natural alternative to enhance your tooth and gum health in lieu of other types of products like mouthwash or fluoride. The thing is, there are coconut oil pulling dangers because people expect the oral health benefits of coconut oil pulling to do things they’re not scientifically capable of doing. Or they hurt themselves in the process (yes, you can hurt yourself while oil pulling.)

Benefits of Coconut Oil Pulling?

What are the benefits of coconut oil pulling? Depending on what your oral health concerns are, coconut oil can be helpful or not.

Some people say that oil pulling with coconut oil makes their teeth whiter. While it isn’t necessarily a whitening agent, the oil might help buffer stain prevention, which is why some people feel it makes their smile brighter. If you compare it to using prescription mouthwash like chlorhexidine (which is frequently prescribed for people with gum disease,) coconut oil is far less likely to stain your teeth. Whereas chlorhexidine can make your teeth stained within a week or two of using it. 

As a natural moisturizer, coconut oil can be helpful in alleviating chronic xerostomia (dry mouth) symptoms, including dry or sticky tissues in the mouth, as well as cracked, chapped lips.

Depending on who you ask, some people swear that oil pulling with coconut oil combats tooth decay because they feel it reduces plaque bacteria inside of their mouths. If it does, then it would also hypothetically help with managing gingivitis and gum disease. More on that in a little bit… 

Does Coconut Oil Pulling Actually Work?

As of yet, there is not any firm, extensive evidence to show that there are significant benefits of oil pulling. Especially given the amount of time it takes up in your day compared to other alternatives.

What we’ve found in dentistry is that oil pulling can actually predispose some people to additional dental problems rather than make their mouths healthier. Mostly because they’re seriously straining their TMJ (jaw joint) to “rinse” coconut oil for 20 minutes at a time, and/or they trust that the coconut pulling is some type of a replacement for traditional brushing and flossing.

Yes, there is some extremely limited research on oil pulling with coconut oil. But it’s only enough to mildly suggest that there could be potential benefits. It isn’t enough for dental experts or the American Dental Association to identify the known oral health benefits of regular oil pulling or professionally endorse it to dental patients. [2]

Remember, even rinsing with an antimicrobial mouthwash doesn’t physically remove sticky plaque and tartar on teeth, between them, or under the gums. Only brushing and flossing can remove non-calcified buildup. Rinsing with mouthwash just helps lift away the looser, leftover bacteria and food debris; we shouldn’t expect anything different from coconut pulling.

We also don’t have any evidence yet that there are any properties inside coconut oil that remineralize enamel.

Coconut Oil Pulling Dangers

Most oiling pulling dangers are blown out of proportion but there are things other than your oral health you're putting at risk. Here are the two major coconut oil pulling dangers to be aware of:

1. Coconut oil clogs sinks and pipes

Yup, it's a thing. You wouldn’t want to pour grease down the sink. Coconut oil is a natural solid, and it only turns into a liquid once it warms up in your mouth. If you’re oil pulling in the bathroom and then after 20 minutes, don’t spit it out into the sink like you would mouthwash. It will re-solidify, and you’re going to clog up your bathroom plumbing. Only spit it into the trash/garbage can.

2. Serious Jaw Strain

Oil pulling with coconut oil can really do a number on your TMJ. Since the benefits of oil pulling tend to require at least a good 20-minute swishing session, that’s a lot of strain on your jaw joints. After a few sessions, you’re highly likely to experience jaw pain, joint stiffness, and even headaches and neck pain because of the tension spreading into adjacent muscles.

Coconut Oil Pulling Can Eliminate Bad Breath?

Oil pulling might help with bad breath if you have chronic dry mouth or atypical biofilm levels. Similar to taking probiotics, oil pulling may compliment your oral hygiene routine as long as you’re brushing and flossing thoroughly before you use the coconut oil.

Of all of the hundreds of different types of bacteria in our mouths, coconut oil could help keep some of them in check. Oil pulling with sesame oil is also believed to work as well. Since sesame oil is in a liquid state at room temperature, it’s also a little easier to use.

Just remember that bad breath usually originates from active gum diseases, what food you ate, or buildup on your tongue. If you’re targeting those issues first, then complimenting your home care routine with oil pulling could help manage your halitosis more effectively.

Coconut Oil Pulling Can Remove Harmful Bacteria?  

There is scientific research that shows oil pulling is associated with a decrease in the number of harmful bacteria inside of your mouth. For instance, streptococcus mutans (S. mutans) which is known for contributing to tooth decay.[3]

In one study, test participants were asked to use sesame oil for oil pulling for 10 minutes a day for two weeks. Researchers tested the bacteria levels inside participants’ saliva as well as the plaque that was stuck on their teeth. In both samples, levels of S. mutans were lower than they were prior to oil pulling.

So yes, you could technically make a claim that oil pulling—at least with sesame oil—does help lower overall levels of certain types of bad bacteria. But it doesn’t eliminate them completely or physically remove them the same as brushing and flossing. That’s why if you are going to practice oil pulling, it’s recommended you just add it as an adjunctive part of your already existing home routine. 

As far as using coconut oil, there still isn’t adequate research to show whether or not it’s helpful in removing harmful oral bacteria.[4]

Can Coconut Oil Pulling Help Prevent Gingivitis?

If someone has chronic gingivitis and gum disease, their dentist might prescribe chlorhexidine mouthwash in conjunction with a series of deep cleanings. Lately, there have been a few studies comparing how effective coconut oil is compared to chlorhexidine.

In the studies that were performed, scientists found a similar reduction of gingivitis symptoms when it came to rinsing with chlorhexidine and oil pulling with coconut oil. This is pretty significant since chlorhexidine can cause serious tooth staining if you use it for more than a couple of weeks. But chlorhexidine takes less than a minute to use, while oil pulling requires swishing 10-20 minutes at a time (at might hurt your jaw.)[5]

A similar study tested plaque formation and gingivitis and saw some notable improvement in plaque levels and gingivitis symptoms.[6]

While there is some potential to say that coconut oil pulling helps manage, prevent, or treat gingivitis, there still needs to be more reliable testing on a larger data sample—as well as more in-depth research—to understand the actual mechanical reasons behind it. For now, the words “may,” “can,” and “could” seem to accompany nearly every oil pulling claim. 

Talk With a Dentist

Any time you’re switching up your dental routine—like making a major change in your toothbrush, toothpaste, or using a DIY product—always check with your dentist and dental hygienist. You don’t want to give up something that’s “good” for something that’s “ok” or mediocre. Even though oil pulling could possibly be beneficial, it doesn’t outweigh using fluoride toothpaste, an electric toothbrush, and traditional flossing between your teeth. Having a good one-on-one conversation with your dental provider will be your best source of information when it comes to at-home homeopathic care techniques. Especially since your dentist is able to physically see your teeth and gums every six months and evaluate them for any changes.

Should You Try Oil Pulling At Home?  

Sure! Just like any other homeopathic product or DIY dental technique, you need to make sure you’re still practicing good oral hygiene with brushing and flossing, plus seeing your dentist regularly. Using a product from your kitchen for 10-20 minutes every day isn’t going to produce miracles beyond that of brushing properly and flossing every day. In fact, oil pulling is going to take up even more time—and be more of a pain to your TMJ—than just brushing and flossing to begin with. That being said, swishing a tablespoon of coconut oil in conjunction with your home dental hygiene routine AND regular dental checkups probably isn’t going to hurt anything.

If you really want to explore the benefits of oil pulling, just make sure you remember the two major coconut oil pulling dangers (a sore jaw and clogged sinks) and that it needs to be done in conjunction with brushing and flossing.