Does Oil Pulling Work To Whiten Your Teeth? I Tried It For a Week, and Here's What Happened

This journey begins with an embarrassing confession: at the mature age 23, I got a cavity. Because of my carefree adult lifestyle, I hadn’t been to the dentist in over two years. Maybe it was the distance between dental appointments, maybe it was because I use the threads from candy necklaces for floss and brush my teeth with jelly bean juice — but one of my teeth was starting to rot. 

I remember that terrible feeling, being reclined under that bright light, my be-masked dentist clucking her tongue at my delinquency. “Looks like there’s some decay here,” she murmured in her thick Israeli accent. “Aaahhhhhfffpp (Aw, f*ck),” I replied, jaw-extended as she scraped the plaque off my teeth with that vindictive metal hook of hers. 

Though I made sure to tense my body the entire time she filled the cavity, the experience wasn’t nearly as bad I had built it up to be. I mean, the left side of my face was immobilized for the rest of the day, but I survived. And while there’s nothing like reliving childhood fears and anxiety with a good Scary Dentist Trip, I’m seeking alternatives to maintain my oral hygiene between appointments. I decided to try Oil Pulling.

My roommate turned me onto oil pulling, the 3,000-year-old Ayurvedic practice of swishing a tablespoon of oil (like coconut or safflower) around your mouth every morning for 20 minutes. Yes, that's right — 20 minutes. The practice is supposed to cleanse your teeth and gums of bacteria. Here's how it works: the coconut oil sticks to the oil in the cell membranes of all the little cells in your mouth, and so when you spit it out, you’re also spitting out all those little guys in there. Science. 

Besides eliminating plaque and bacteria, oil pulling is supposed to do a lot of other things too: purported benefits include whitened teeth, better breath, reduced headaches, clearer skin, and increased energy. I challenged myself to a week of oil pulling, to see what all the fuss was about. 

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The Experiment

I chose the bougie-ist of oils, coconut, because it contains anti-microbial lauric acid (plus, we all know that coconut oil is a panacea). I took pictures of my grill from day 0 to day 7. See for yourself the amazing transformation! 

Day 0:

This is my mouth in the morning, just after brushing. A little gross and filmy, there’s some definite yellowing on many of my teeth. Mostly, I am discouraged by the fact that my teeth seem slightly crooked in this picture despite years of excruciating orthodontia. I am particularly unnerved by the one tiny tooth on the right — curious. I have decided to start wearing my evening mouth-vice (night retainer) again. 

Day 1

First day of oil pulling — and feeling squeaky clean! A visibly whiter and brighter smile here. Perhaps it is the lighting. I found it difficult at the beginning to keep a tablespoon of oil in my mouth, as my first impulse was to gag and spit it out, but I grew accustomed to the feeling after minute five. I melted the solid coconut oil in the microwave for a few seconds, so there was a warm, toasty coconut taste in my mouth — not unpleasant, but warm. Also noticed that I’m wearing the same pajamas here as last night. Interesting.

Day 2

Sometimes, we do not have time to spend 20 minutes in the morning swishing oil around our mouths— this photo is from a night pull. I’ve found that the time passes quickly if you find something to occupy yourself while your mouth is full of coconut oil, like looking at your own Facebook profile from an outsider's point of view, just to check what your life is looking like on social media these days. I am getting used to the mouthfeel of the oil. My teeth look yellower than yesterday, but maybe it is the yellow-ish lighting?

Day 3

HOT HOT OIL! I left the coconut oil in the microwave for longer than 30 seconds, and as a result, had to spit out a burning mouthful of coconut oil. DO NOT PUT YOUR OIL IN THE MICROWAVE. In addition, many of my personal belongings, like my laptop, now have oil finger marks on them. I have worn these pajamas for the third night in a row — it has become clear that these are my favorite pajamas. Otherwise, nothing new here. 

Day 4

Another night pulling. This time, I have learned from my foolishness and started with a teaspoon of solid oil, which I let melt in my mouth. That was weird, but in the end, it was more effective. So far, I really can’t tell if this is making a difference. My mouth does feel cleaner after a good oil-swish, and my lips are receiving the added benefit of coconut moisturizer, but I can’t speak to the “clearer skin” or “increased energy” claims. I’d maybe assume that anyone who takes this weird new-agey care of their teeth would already have pretty clear skin and good energy levels. Maybe my breath is better? Need more data.

Day 5

I've turned a corner this squeaky-clean morning. Would you look at these pearly whites? Could I ever commit to a lifetime of oil pulling? I never thought I’d identify myself as a member of the oil pulling community. But the self-image can be fluid and versatile.

Also, where did my pajamas go?? 

Day 6

Check out these mandibles, positively glowing. I never really got headaches before now, and now I still don't get them! Amazing! Wondering how my healthy gums might improve my love life. Like, "damn gurl, those gums tho." 

Day 7

Last day of oil pulling! To celebrate the occasion, I’m wearing my favorite pajamas. Gleaming pearly whites, no cavities today. And my teeth look slightly straighter from a solid week of wearing my evening mouth vice. Hello tiny tooth! 

My Findings

Though some oil pullers on the Internet claim drastic life changes from their practice (one "yoganonymous" says it contributes to better sleep and regulated menstrual cycle), I couldn't support these claims after this week. Better oral health? I can see that; my mouth felt pretty cleansed after receiving all of this attention. But preventing heart disease? I think there are other, more closely-related factors involved there, like family history and cheeseburgers. Like no one gets a heart attack and says, "Damn, I should've been oil pulling." 

Perhaps one day, if I find 20 minutes to add to my personal care routine in the morning, oil pulling will become a more permanent fixture in my life — but for now, I might save the experience for when my mouth feels extra scuzzy. 

So what then have I learned after this transformative week? First, I have learned that I am not averse to trying disgusting/weird home remedies, probably because I have an inherent mistrust of modern medicine. Second, I only have one pair of pajamas. Third, it is very difficult to speak with a mouthful of oil, as seen from this textual exchange with my roommate:

 

Images: mealmakovermoms/FlickrGiphyJane Brendlinger (9)

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