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Oil Pulling May Have Celebrity Believers, but Doctors Say It’s No Cure-All

Coconut Oil

Gargling with mouthwash—sure. But swishing coconut oil around in your mouth for as long as 20 minutes a day?

It might sound kooky, but WebMD says this new trend based on ancient Indian ayurvedic principles is being embraced by people who believe it does everything from whiten their teeth to improve symptoms of asthma and arthritis.

Oil pulling, also called "oil swishing," involves rinsing about 1 tablespoon of oil around in your mouth. It is most commonly done with coconut oil, although proponents have tried other oils like sesame and olive.

Dentist Jeffrey Dalin tells U.S.News & World Report that advocates of oil pulling say it helps their oral health. "People are saying that their breath is better, their gums don't bleed anymore and their teeth look a little whiter," he says.

Hollywood is getting in on the trend. Actress Gwyneth Paltrow has touted the practice. "It's supposed to be great for oral health and making your teeth white," she said in a recent interview. "It's supposed to clear up your skin, as well."

But Paltrow makes movies, not medical decisions on behalf of patients.


Does Oil Pulling Work?

Don't toss your toothbrush just yet.

Lyla Blake-Gumbs, MD, tells U.S.News & World Report that just because a practice has been around for thousands of years doesn't mean it is effective. "I can't go to any objective, well-run clinical trials to look into the other claims," she says.

"Coconut oil itself is a very healthy oil to use" if you're ingesting it, says Rick Henriksen, MD, MPP, director of the primary care track and family medicine clerkship at the University of Utah School of Medicine. But flossing regularly and "a physical brushing of the teeth can remove a lot of debris and product you would not be able to remove through oil pulling," he says.

Could there be drawbacks? Swishing that oil around makes some people nauseated, and swallowing it could give people who practice oil pulling an upset stomach or diarrhea.

And medical professionals, even proponents of oil pulling, acknowledge that it's no cure-all. "People have reported all kinds of wonderful results from doing it, but you can't attribute every result to the practice," Marc Halpern, a chiropractor and the president of the California College of Ayurveda, tells WebMD.