Originally published in Well+Good.
Would you rinse your mouth out with coconut oil?
Turns out many New Yorkers are trading their Listerine for a 10-minute swish with the viscous stuff. The practice is called oil pulling and it’s a (decidedly unusual) Ayurvedic detox method.
Recently the centuries-old medicinal mouth-washing ritual has resurfaced and is getting a lot of lip service for its health-and-beauty perks.
Part of the possible allure? The cleanse doesn’t require juice delivery or even a sweat-inducing workout—just a daily rinse with coconut oil. (If you can stand it.)
WHAT IS OIL PULLING?
Scott Gerson, MD, PhD, medical director of the National Institute of Ayurvedic Medicine, describes the practice like a colonic for the oral cavity.
Swishing with a mouthful of oil “absorbs undigested and partially digested products of food and desquamated cells out of the oral cavity. These contain bacteria, a toxic substance for the body,” explains Gerson, who calls the practice by its Ayurvedic name, Gandusha.
WHAT ARE ITS HEALTH-AND-BEAUTY BENEFITS?
Wellness mavens cite beauty perks from the swish-and-spit routine, like healthier gums, whiter teeth, and glowing skin.
Kat Feldhouse, 29, a writer in Brooklyn, started rinsing with coconut oil about a month ago, after bumping into a friend who was “bursting with energy and glowing skin thanks to oil pulling.” “Within three days of trying it herself, Feldhouse started to see results: “My hands, face, and scalp were way less dry. And my gums had a rosy pink color and finally stopped bleeding after flossing,” she says.
Yvette Rose, the creator of Joulebody Kickstart Cleanse, isn’t surprised. She’s been recommending oil pulling to clients for an extra-cleansing boost, suggesting its benefits might go beyond beautification. “Any type of bacteria or inflammation in our mouths can compromise the immune system, making it work overtime to clean up everything,” says Rose. “When our immune system isn’t able to keep up, these toxins contribute to excess fat and disease.”
DOES IT WORK?
Others swear that, in addition to cleaning up dirty mouths, oil pulling has helped their digestion, hormonal issues, migraine headaches, joint pain, and even fatigue. Studies have proven oral hygiene’s link to heart disease, say these fans, so why not other ailments?
But Dr. Gerson isn’t exactly swallowing it. While he’s seen oil pulling improve tooth decay, bad breath, bleeding gums, weak teeth, and TMJ joint disease in his practice of 30 years, “there are no scientific studies yet that support the claims beyond its positive impact on oral health,” Dr. Gerson says. (Though he’s heard countless anecdotal accounts of ailments improved by oil pulling.)
It looks like oil pulling gets the same results as (chemically laced) mouthwash in the oral-care department, plus the possible perk of glowing skin. Why not try it since you’re already using it for cooking and baking?
How to do the mouth-washing detox rinse
But for a less pungent and decidedly more palatable experience, try a tablespoon of coconut oil. Spectrum’s Organic Unrefined Coconut Oil ($7.99) is an organic option with a nice flavor. (And it’s great in cooking and baking, too.)
Swish it in your mouth for about 10 minutes, working your way up to 15 or 20 minutes, once a day. Focus on pulling, pushing, and drawing it through your teeth without swallowing it. Then spit it out.
Proponents says that rinsing before breakfast, on an empty stomach, produces the best detox results.
And it might go without saying, but brush your teeth per usual after you’re done. Prolonged contact can cause tooth decay.