Coconut and coconut oil. Photo: joannawnuk/iStockphoto
When it comes to beauty procedures, products or treatments, I really will try anything. (Seriously -- I once used a serum on my face that smelt like pee.) So when a friend sent me an article on the latest craze -- "oil pulling" -- I was obviously going to try it out for myself.
Oil pulling, also known as "kavala" or "gundusha," is an ancient Ayurvedic dental technique that involves swishing a tablespoon of oil in your mouth on an empty stomach for around 20 minutes. This action supposedly draws out toxins in your body, primarily to improve oral health but also to improve your overall health.
The reported benefits include:
• Whiter teeth • Cavity and gingivitis prevention • Better breath (halitosis suffers also reported greatly improved morning breath) • Stronger teeth and gums • Less jaw pain (TMJ sufferers noted great improvement), sleep problems and sinus issues • Alleviation of headaches, hangovers and skin issues (reports have shown improvement in acne, psoriasis and eczema)
The procedure I followed:
First, pick an oil. Most people use coconut oil as it also has strong antibacterial properties, but you can use any other vegetable-based oil. Then, take a tablespoon of oil and swish it around your mouth for 20 minutes.
(Note: Be gentle here -- no need to be as aggressive as you are with mouthwash, as you will be doing it for 20 minutes and don’t want to get a stiff jaw! The oil will almost double in size as it draws in saliva as well as the toxins. Be sure notto swallow as you will be taking these toxins into your body -- the complete opposite of what you are trying to do.)
Once the 20 minutes are up, spit the oil out into the trash (not your sink, where the oil may solidify and block up the drain) and swish your mouth with warm salt water. Finally, brush and floss as you normally would.
On the first day, I woke up with a little bit of a headache from too many frozen margaritas the night before. Since one of the benefits of oil pulling is improving hangovers, I thought it was the best time to give it a go. First up, a tablespoon felt like a lot, so I decided I’d start with a teaspoon and work my way up. I went in first with solid coconut oil, which made me gag and spit it out -- once melted it was a little easier to take, so I began swishing.
I sat at my desk looking through emails and also researching the method more -- this didn’t exactly help, as reading about the toxins that were now currently in my mouth made me feel a little ill. The good thing about coconut oil is that it doesn’t taste that bad -- I'm not sure how I would like another type of oil. After reaching 15 minutes I spat it out, and was happy to note that once I had swilled with warm salt water, and brushed and flossed as normal, there was no residue left.
My initial thoughts: My headache worsened while I was doing it, but then afterwards it was gone, as was my hangover. It also made me very hungry!
The second day went pretty much the same as the first: I got another headache while doing it. (Some research indicated these could be "detox headaches," as I was new to the process.) I was finding throughout the 15-20 minutes, the first few minutes were spent getting use to the taste and texture, the middle part was fine, but when the oil had doubled in size -- a sign of it pulling all the toxins out -- I couldn’t quite handle it being in my mouth and started to feel sick.
Day three was where I hit a little bit of a road block; I only managed to make it to 10 minutes. Day four, I just barely pushed through, hating every second of it. Then came day five: After only going for five minutes I quite literally puked it up.
I couldn’t hack the texture in my mouth and the thought of having a lot of bad stuff just swishing around in my mouth wasn’t to my liking -- clearly! To see the benefits of oil pulling, you really have to do this most days of the week for about two weeks, but I will say that my teeth were considerably whiter after only four days and it cured that one hangover.
A doctor's feedback:
Even though I had failed, I still wanted to know if this process was legit, so I reached out to Dr. Katey Yeowart, MBBS MPH, for her professional opinion of oil pulling with coconut oil.
Dr. Yeowart says that to date, there is relatively little formal trial data about oil pulling, but that coconut oil does make a great, organic substitute for mouthwash as it contains Vitamin E, which acts as an antioxidant, and also has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties thanks to the lauric acid and monolaurin. (On a personal note, her mom swears by it for her gums.)
Coconut oil has other proven benefits, too. It contains lots of easily digestible, fat-soluble vitamins: A,D,E and K. Vitamin A is good for the immune system, Vitamin E has strong antioxidant properties for the skin and can provide some protection against UV rays, Vitamin D is good for strong bones and teeth, and Vitamin K is good for blood-clotting. Dr. Yeowart also says there is "weak evidence" that coconut oil could increase your good cholesterol and reduce the bad stuff, though more research is needed.
One caution: Dr. Yeowart says there is still a risk of "contact dermatitis," an allergic skin reaction to coconut oil, so it's best to test in the crease of your elbow before putting it in your mouth.
We still don't know if oil pulling is as good and effective as some people claim it is (and some people have certainly reported great results). At the very least, we know cleaning our mouths with coconut oil can't hurt us, especially with all of the added benefits Dr. Yeowart mentioned above.
Will I be trying it again? I am not too sure -- I will, however, be looking into more ways I can use coconut oil for oral health that are a little easier to stomach.