Everyone wants better teeth. It's why correctors (like braces or Invisalign) exist, and why brands sell whitening pastes, gels and brushes. But these treatments aren't all that new. Although the term "braces" didn't catch on until the 20th century, they existed, in an earlier form, as far back as 1819. Ancient Egyptians whitened their teeth with ground pumice and vinegar. (Ouch, right?) That was over 4,000 years ago, and there's a more recent, albeit nearly as old, method that's catching on once again: oil pulling.
What is oil pulling?
Oil pulling derives from Ayurvedic medicine, a system of alternative treatments that can be traced back to ancient India. According to Ayurveda, a broader term for the belief system governing Ayurvedic medicine, swishing coconut or sesame oil in your mouth for between 5 and 20 minutes can remove bad bacteria from within your mouth, protect your enamel from erosion, heal bleeding gums and strip the tongue of toxins.
How to Oil Pull:
Pour a tablespoon of oil into your mouth. Swish it around your teeth, gums and tongue for 5 to 20 minutes depending on your comfortability. Spit the spent oil into the trash or a paper towel — not down the drain.
It's believed, at least in Eastern medicine fields, that the tongue is connected to the rest of the body. In fact, the oral cavity — a.k.a. your mouth — is the second-most-complex microbiome in the body (behind the stomach). According to a research article published in a scientific journal in March 2021, "The tongue is considered to reflect the physiological and pathological condition of the body, as well as the degree and progression of disease, through the meridians that connect the tongue to the internal organs."
This supports the ancient Indian belief that oil pulling can not only rid the mouth of toxins and treat its ailments but address issues plaguing the body at large, too. But oil pulling does little beyond expelling bad bacteria and toxins, which cause bad breath and tooth sensitivity. Think of it as viscous mouthwash, a thick sludge capable of catching the bad stuff.
So, does oil pulling work?
Well, it depends who you ask. Ayurvedic medicine is a touchy subject. Because of its roots in ancient Indian history, it is nearly religion — a gray area you can't quite contest because its methods are upheld by tradition. But if you ask medical professionals, while most Ayurvedic medicines won't harm you, there's little evidence they help that much.
"There is no evidence that oil pulling can prevent cavities, detoxify the body, strengthen teeth, treat cancer or reduce headaches, despite such claims made online. Many of these reputed benefits reek of pseudoscience quackery of the worse kind, promising exceptional health benefits without scientific evidence to support them," science journalist Anthony King wrote in the British Dental Journal.
It's true. Those touting oil pulling as a mythical cure-all for things like bad breath, tooth sensitivity, cancer and kidney disease overstate the treatment's benefits. In reality, oil pulling has been proven by a few scientific studies to be beneficial alongside your regular brushing and rinsing routines. It can slow tooth decay by coating your teeth in a protective film; reduce gum sensitivity and even whiten teeth. Before starting an oil pulling routine, it's important that you ask a dentist about the potential drawbacks, even if you don't foresee any.
"We support holistic approaches to your oral care," Nashville, Tennessee dental office Downtown Dental explains in its public statement about oil pulling. "You just have to be smart about it and consider your individual dental health: There are certain types of infections that oil pulling will not resolve, and you have to be aggressive about treating those. It won’t take away raging gum infections or cavities. Oil pulling may remove bacteria, but it doesn’t kill bacteria, and that’s a big difference."
Is oil pulling the Next Big Thing in dental care?
Health and wellness trends are a dime a dozen. A new treatment arises — even if it's actually ancient — and influencers aplenty post about its benefits on their social channels; quick videos about its restorative powers appear on TikTok; in-depth reviews populate on YouTube; Instagram ads for the product (or process) overload Instagram's algorithm. Mine, because I'm constantly writing about and reviewing this sort of stuff, might be more susceptible to trendy things, but notes about oral wellness, at least for the past month, have been everywhere.
In my opinion, it's the next frontier. We're collectively all about skincare, of course, but going inside to treat a plethora of issues we may not even aware of — think: gut health, 2019's biggest wellness trend — seems so much more advanced. And Terra & Co., a brand making a suite of gentler oils meant for pulling, clearly agrees. It's been aggressive about getting the word out — and samples into the hands of influential, already-well people.
Enter Terra & Co.'s Gentle Green Oil Pulling
Although traditional Ayurvedic medicine calls for using sesame or coconut oils — the latter definitely tastes better, I learned — the base for Terra & Co.'s Gentle Green Oil Pulling is neem oil, oil derived from the neem tree, which is native to the Indian subcontinent. It's naturally antibacterial and food safe, but you shouldn't swallow it. Other ingredients include THC-free hemp oil, matcha powder, a plant-based prebiotic called Acacia Senegal Gum, moringa oil and peppermint oil, plus the non-toxic, NASA-developed mineral nano-hydroxyapatite (nHAp). (Yes, NASA developed this synthetic, bioavailable alternative to calcium to treat bone and enamel mass loss upon their return from space — zero gravity will do that to you.)
It's hard to ignore the notion that Terra & Co. is gentrifying ancient Ayurvedic medicine. Oil pulling can be done with ingredients that are already in your kitchen cabinet. And at $40 dollars a bottle, what's the point? Coconut oil is $10 or $15 dollars a tub at max. But Terra & Co. holds a clear advantage to the classic way: It's effectiveness is proven, because it uses added nHAp+, which has been proven to be more impactful in the enamel repair process than traditional fluoride.
Terra & Co. is still clear that oil pulling should be done in addition to brushing and flossing. But it certainly can't hurt, despite how odd the experience is for those who've never done it before — myself included. While traditional mouth washes are thin and tingly, the Gentle Green Oil is viscous and herbal. It takes a few tries to get used to, especially since it thickens as you swish it. The more aggressively you do so, the quicker it'll happen, but the brand only recommends you rinse for two to five minutes, not the full 20 Ayurvedics demand.
My experience with oil pulling
Thus far — I've been testing Terra & Co. for two weeks; the standard bottle will last you 4-6 weeks — I've found my teeth to be generally less sensitive, which I can likely attribute to my uptick in nHAp+ exposure. My dentist, whom I visited a week after starting it, didn't notice a drastic difference in my gums, but they have bled less during intense brushing than they used to. Can I confidently say that's because of the oil? No, but who knows. I'd need to do extensive research, and probably pay out of pocket for dental analysis, to figure that out.
For now, it'll remain a part of my regular oral hygiene routine, but I don't feel motivated — at least not yet, although maybe I will once I stop using it again — to buy another bottle. But perhaps your experience with it will prove more transformative — it's still pseudoscience, in a way, even if Terra & Co.'s formula comes with a NASA-made mineral.