Coconut oil is the go-to for pretty much everything: Frizzy hair? Coconut oil. Dry skin? Coconut oil. Bad credit? Coconut oil. (Okay, maybe not that last one.) Which is why it's not surprising that celebs, like Malin Akerman, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Shailene Woodley, are also using it for a whiter, healthier smile.
"I think using coconut oil in the morning and swishing it around your mouth for five to twenty minutes is really a great trick," Akerman recently told Us Weekly, adding that it helps to whiten her teeth. "A healthy mouth is a healthy body."
Though coconut oil truly is a miracle cure for many things, does it really help to improve our dental health?
Here's what you need to know about oil pulling before you start to swish.
What is Oil Pulling?
"Oil pulling is an ancient Ayurvedic technique that dates back thousands of years ago. It involves swishing oil in the mouth as a form of oral and whole body health technique," says Dr. Elizabeth Trattner, a Miami-based acupuncture physician and nutritionist. "This technique dates back to many ancient Ayurveda texts, which indicate it is more than oral care but a system for whole body health care."
Though cold-pressed sesame and sunflower oil can also be used, Dr. Trattner recommends organic coconut oil, and swishing for a few minutes to up to 30 minutes.
How Does It Benefit Your Pearly Whites?
Multiple studies on oil pulling have showed a reduction in plaque while also helping to curtail and manage gingivitis, which Dr. Trattner calls "impressive."
Additionally, "Oil pulling is said to purify the entire body and keep the microflora of the mouth balanced," she says. "It's an inexpensive form of oral hygiene that has possible other health benefits by keeping the mouth clean and the reduction of bacteria."
Another perk? Oil pulling is chemical-free. "Western oral care involves harsh chemicals and the mouth’s delicate tissues make it easy to absorb these chemicals into the blood stream," says Dr. Trattner. "Which is why many people are looking to other health systems for wellness. This ancient method has become increasingly popular because it doesn’t involve chemicals that can hurt the body’s immune system, mouth and teeth. "
As for that bright white, high-wattage Hollywood smile? Though there isn't much scientific evidence supporting that oil pulling whitens your teeth, Dr. Trattner says that doesn't mean it lacks efficacy. "Cleaning teeth and the mouth will have a positive effect on teeth, gums, and the reduction of bacteria."
And the more you do it, the happier you'll probably be. Adds Dr. Trattner, "Any time we perform a ritual where we using movement or mantra, in this case swishing oil, we create the chemical, oxytocin, the feel good hormone that reduces stress."
But Swishing is a Time Suck
You might be able to get away with swishing for a few minutes every morning, but to truly reap the benefits of oil pulling, the longer you swish, the better. Which, when you have many things to do in the morning, could be annoying.
"Thirty minutes is a lot of time and can be used for either meal preparation or exercise," admits Dr. Trattner. "I still think oil pulling is something readers can try for five to ten minutes a day to see if they see positive outcomes in a few months. The most important aspect [of oil pulling] is that it cannot hurt and is very safe."
The swishing of oil pulling might take a while, but it might be well worth it.
"Most of the medical studies I have reviewed show oil pulling as a very promising modality for oral health care," says Dr. Trattner. "Also, there is quite a lot to learn from ancient traditions such as Ayurveda. We have barely scratched the surface to these ancient healing modalities. Just because something isn’t documented on PubMed, doesn’t mean it isn’t effective for preventing disease."
Or making your teeth shine.
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