Over the past decade, coconut oil pulling here in the US has emerged from a little known Ayurvedic practice to a regular part of many people’s oral hygiene – and for good reason. It’s easy. It’s effective – not just for cleansing the teeth but the gums and other soft tissues, as well.

We see it in our own patients. It’s also something that’s been confirmed by scientific research – most recently by a review in the journal Healthcare.

Its authors tapped three major databases of medical research, looking for randomized controlled trials that evaluated the impact of oil pulling on oral health and hygiene. Three outcomes were considered: salivary bacteria count, plaque index scores, and gingival index scores. Nine studies made the cut.

Analysis of these studies found that although there were no significant differences in the plaque and gingival scores, bacterial counts were significantly lower among the oil pullers.

“Evidence shows that oil pulling can reduce total bacterial counts,” the research team wrote. “In addition, it reduces susceptibility to caries [tooth decay] from marked to mild or moderate.”

Why it should have this effect, they added, “is not clear.”

There are three possible mechanisms, one being the alkaline hydrolysis of the fat, leading to the process of saponification or “soap making”. Since the oil used in pulling contains fat, the alkaline hydrolysis process emulsifies the fat into bicarbonate ions, which are usually present in saliva. Soap is an effective cleaning agent that is mixed in the oil, thus increasing the surface area of the oil, which in turn increases the cleaning action. Another theory is that the viscous properties of the oil inhibit plaque accumulation and adherent bacteria. A third theory posits that the antioxidants present in the oil affect detoxification by preventing lipid peroxidation, and producing antibiotic-like substances, thereby contributing to the destruction of microorganisms and enhancing the effects of vitamin E in the oral cavity.

Meantime, a small but compelling study out of Korea underscored the power of coconut oil even more.

This study focused specifically on the periodontal health of smokers. Smoking is one of the absolute worst things you can do for your gums. It’s the number one cause of gum disease, especially its most aggressive form, accelerating bone loss, which makes eventual tooth loss all the more likely.

Thirty smokers were randomly split into two groups. One was given organic coconut oil, and the other was given sterilized, distilled water. All were told to “wash their teeth” for 2 – 3 minutes each morning over the course of four weeks. The health of their gums was evaluated at the start of the study, after the 4-week intervention, and again after 8 weeks.

“The coconut oil intervention,” the researchers found, “positively affected the periodontal health of smokers.” In other words, their gums were healthier – even though they smoked.

  • Their gums bled much less, with their scores dropping from 26.07 at the start of the study to 12.53 (compared to a drop from 26.18 to 18.33 in the control group).
  • Their plaque load dropped from 24 to 9.83 (compared to a drop from 24.5 to 16.17 in the control group).
  • They showed a significant decrease in dry mouth symptoms and a higher oral health-related quality of life.

If you’re not already doing coconut oil pulling and are ready to try it for yourself, it’s simple. Just take a tablespoon of organic coconut oil in your mouth. As it begins to melt, start gently swishing it all around your mouth.

You may find it difficult or awkward at first, but keep going as long as you can. Try to get to a point where you can pull for at least 10 minutes, no more than 20.

Once you’re done, spit the oil out into the trash (NOT down the drain, as it will harden and clog your pipes).

How much easier can it be to give your teeth and gums a little extra help in being as healthy as they can be?