What exactly is oil pulling and should you be doing it?

Actresses Shailene Woodley (above) and Gwyneth Paltrow are among oil pulling's celebrity following.

Actresses Shailene Woodley (above) and Gwyneth Paltrow are among oil pulling's celebrity following. Photo: Christopher Polk

Oil pulling is an ancient Ayurvedic practice that involves swishing a cold-pressed oil around your mouth first thing in the morning for about 20 minutes.

Our mouths are home to billions of bacteria, and most of those micro-organisms are covered with a lipid (fatty) membrane, which is the cell’s skin.  

The idea behind oil pulling is that when these cells come into contact with oil, they adhere to each other so the longer you push and pull the oil through your mouth the more toxins and impurities it grabs thus preventing our bodies from ingesting them and thereby promoting better health.

Avid oil pullers believe it assists with: oral health, whiter teeth, cavity and gingivitis prevention, halitosis, strengthening teeth and gums, insomnia and sinus issues, alleviating headaches, hangovers and skin issues such as acne, psoriasis and eczema.


Other broader claims include: correcting hormone imbalances, reduction of arthritic inflammation, weight loss, improved vision and kidney function as well as working as on overall detoxification.

Studies on the practice have been tiny and scientifically inconclusive.

So why entertain such a ridiculous notion and try it for myself? Simple, my immune system is defunct … my health honours roll includes allergies, migraines, PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) and refractory coeliac disease, where my body refuses to heal despite being on a gluten-free diet.

So without sounding like a massive whinger there are times when I feel so crap I would try anything including this seven-day oil pulling challenge.

Day one, the thought of dumping a gelatinous substance in my pie hole for 20 minutes is enough to make my stomach turn.

Pulling practitioners recommended a tablespoon of cold pressed oil, I opt for coconut because the thought of sesame oil is too rich for me to stomach.

I set my timer, deciding to start slowly with a teaspoon to see what the sensation is like. My stomach instantly flips as the slimy coagulated texture hits my tongue, next thing I’m cleaning up the globules I sprayed all over the kitchen  – epic fail.

Once the gagging sensation passed, I try again this time with half a teaspoon, placing the glug under my tongue to try to melt it before attempting any pulling of the snot-like substance – success!

The first two minutes were the hardest, but once I broke the gag barrier and pottered around the house, the 20 minutes flew. The oil was white and foamy, apparently a good sign. I rinsed with warm salty water and immediately felt how smooth my teeth were. Note, do not dispose of the oil down the sink unless you want to call the plumber.

As the days past I can honestly say the initial gag factor was far from improving. On day three I attempted to up the dose, 30 seconds in and again I was cleaning up oil spots in the kitchen as my impromptu gag reflex got the better of me.

However that evening something quite amazing happened; thanks to my plethora of ailments, my daily brushing routine often leaves me looking like an extra from True Blood and my sink like the bottom of an abattoir. For the first time in years the bleeding around my gums is considerably less, as is the pain caused by brushing … the retching may be worthwhile.

Day seven, looking back at my "pulling" diary, there are more positives to report … less to floss after brushing, morning breath improved, whiter eyes, favourite jeans are slightly looser and my erratic, angry bowel has been a much smoother operator.

The negative, I felt a bit headachey, my glands felt a bit tender and my skin broke out.

The verdict … is oil pulling beneficial or just BS?

Due to my new-found regularity and not having gums that resemble a murder scene every time I brush … I say beneficial and definitely something I will continue to do.

*This story has been solely based on my own experiences, and results. Always seek advice from a healthcare professional before starting any kind of treatment.