coconut oil

I first found out about oil pulling when I was just getting to know a woman who is now one of my dearest friends, Emilee Johnson. At the time, we were both working and living together at a remote fishing lodge in Alaska; and along with three other lady coworkers, we got to know each other’s routines pretty well.

Of course, we all have our idiosyncrasies — this particular summer in question, mine was waking up as late as humanly possible for work in the morning — but when it came to light that Emilee spent 20 minutes each day swishing a mouthful of coconut oil through her teeth, I had some questions. Say what?

I’ll add that Emilee, a yoga goddess, bartender, and full-time student, has brilliantly white, perfect teeth. I definitely noticed this as I stared at her dumbfounded. And of course, I wanted to know more. I also wanted to try it.

Years have passed, and like most habitual things, oil pulling has come in and out of my life. I’m not as quite as on top of it as my Texas-born Emilee Ann, the girl who takes notes with multi-colored pens and makes PowerPoint presentations for fun. But were it not for the more perfect humans in the world, the rest of us would have no reason to strive for improvement. So this New Years, I again resolved to change.

oil pulling

Ancient Wisdom

What is this oil pulling thing all about? It’s currently becoming more and more popular among (not surprisingly) the health-conscious, and, more notably, even among the mainstream. But it’s not new, by any means — it’s an Ayurvedic practice that has been around for roughly 3,000 years.

Also known as “Kavala Graha,” the point of oil pulling is to pull toxins from the body that collect from food, the air we breathe, and the additives we’re exposed to in everyday modern life. As you swish, the oil collects the oil-soluble toxins from your mouth and prevents them from being swallowed and carried through your digestive system.

Oil Pulling Makes Everything Better, Right?

Removing toxins is all well and good; but practically speaking, what aspects of your health does the technique improve? Oil pulling is attributed to an extremely wide range of benefits, some of which, like better oral health, are backed up by science — others of which, like improved acne and restored hormonal balance, are purely anecdotal.

Honestly, if you’re looking for conclusive evidence that oil pulling “works,” there’s quite a bit of grey area here. What little research has been conducted has been called into question by the American Dental Association, which has yet to endorse the practice as a tried and true oral health care method.

On the flip side, points out Dr. Mark Burhenne of the Ask the Dentist blog, there aren’t really any downsides to trying it out, and there are a lot of positives to be gained if even a few of the benefits are real. So why not just give it a shot and see for yourself?

oil pulling

Emilee’s Secret Weapon

After not finding any real answers online about long-term effects on health, I decided to check back in with my guru, Emilee. “Well, I do get sick a lot less,” said Emilee, when I pressed her during a recent conversation. She’s been oil pulling now almost daily for three years, and I wanted to know if it was really as magical as everyone said it was.

“I think it helps my gut and kills a lot of bacteria and viruses that my body would have to fight off on its own,” she said, adding that she receives compliments from her dentist after every cleaning, and never has problems with her oral health. She also said that after a night of drinking, it seems to “take a layer” off her hangover — one of the miraculous side effects cited in another article on the subject.

“To be honest, I feel completely different when I don’t have time to do it,” Emilee told me. “But the key is actually tongue scraping with a copper scraper afterward — that’s what actually removes the toxins after they’re lifted.” She stressed the importance of using a copper tongue scraper for this, which has enzymes that kill harmful bacteria but don’t completely strip the good stuff.

One benefit, though, is actually quite simple and hard to argue with: the act of oil pulling is just another way to start your day with mindfulness. “It’s just a part of my daily ritual, and Ayurvedic practices are big on rituals that bring you to a present state of mind. That alone makes me feel healthier.”

A Quick How-To

  1. Do your oil pulling first thing in the morning, on an empty stomach.
  2. Use high-quality, room-temperature, or cold coconut oil.
  3. Swish the oil in your mouth for 10 to 20 minutes, alternating speeds and techniques. Don’t gargle, and don’t worry, the texture gets better.
  4. Occupy yourself with a household task.
  5. Tongue scrape with a copper scraper.
  6. Brush, floss, and drink a large glass of water to rehydrate.