Have you heard that coconut oil pulling whitens your teeth, detoxifies your body, balances hormones, eliminates acne, brews your morning coffee and makes unicorns appear? Yeah, me too. I haven’t been able to find studies to support all of those claims (though I’m really holding out for the unicorn one), but there is evidence that this 3,000+ year-old Ayurvedic practice:
- Supports a healthy oral microbiome (A HUGE aspect of gut health that hasn’t gotten much attention yet. Read on!)
- Supports healthy teeth and gums (Duh!)
It may also support detoxification and whiten teeth by breaking up plaque and the stains associated with them, but let’s get back to the gut health aspect for a minute.
Nuclear mouthwash and the oral microbiome
Hippocrates once said that “All disease begins in the gut,” but we don’t usually give much thought to where the gut starts – the mouth. As ethnopharmacologist Cass Nelson-Dooley puts it in this fascinating interview:
If we think of the gastrointestinal tract as a river, then the mouth is the headwater, the source of that river. It sets the stage for everything that comes after in the gastrointestinal tract and in the whole body.”
Though it’s touted as “Bad for bacteria, good for gums,” antibacterial mouthwash carries with it the same drawback as antibiotics. It’s the “nuclear option” – an approach that doesn’t discern between good bacteria and pathogenic bacteria. And that’s a problem, because it turns out we swallow one trillion bacteria everyday – a process that is “continuously seeding the gastrointestinal tract with bacteria.” (source)
For example, “H. pylori can be a very stubborn infection to get rid of. It turns out that H. pylori lives in dental biofilms in the mouth. When people had dental cleanings, they were less likely to get reinfected with H. pylori. This is just one example of how bacteria in the stomach and gastrointestinal tract are directly influenced by the bacteria in the mouth. When patients have chronic gastrointestinal dysbiosis, it may be originating in the mouth, and they should be evaluated for periodontal disease,” says Cass Nelson-Dooley.
As mentioned above, trying address oral concerns with antibacterial mouthwash may exacerbate the issue. According to this article in Scientific American, “wiping out too many of the mouth’s native bacteria” with alcohol-based mouthwashes “could disrupt the usual checks and balances, making way for opportunistic species responsible for gum disease and other infections to move in and take over.”
Why is this a big deal? Great question.
How the oral microbiome affects the whole body
Oral disease, “especially periodontitis, may affect the course and pathogenesis of a number of systemic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, bacterial pneumonia, diabetes mellitus, and low birth weight.” (source)
And not just in an indirect sense. According to Nelson-Dooley, “In people with coronary artery disease, simply beginning an oral hygiene program reduced their cardiac events.” On the flipside, “One study showed that using mouthwash eliminated the beneficial effects of healthy oral bacteria and raised blood pressure (4).” (source)
So how can we support a balanced oral microbiome naturally? Brushing and flossing are obviously top priority as is good nutrition, but there are other techniques that preliminary research suggests may be helpful as well.
Benefits of Coconut Oil Pulling
Unlike antibacterial mouthwashes, coconut oil is believed promote a balanced oral microbiome in a few ways:
Swishing it helps to break up the protective coating – known as biofilms or plaque buildup – that sometimes contributes to oral dysbiosis. (source)
According to a team from the Athlone Institute of Technology in Ireland, coconut oil mixed with enzymes that simulate digestion “strongly inhibited the growth of most strains of Streptococcus bacteria including Streptococcus mutans — an acid-producing bacterium that is a major cause of tooth decay.”
In this small study, researchers found that coconut oil pulling supports overall gum health, while this one found that fatty acids found in virgin coconut oil were helpful for balancing yeast in the mouth.
What about adding essential oils?
When unfriendly bacteria try to work synergistically together in the mouth, they communicate via quorum sensing. Oils such as clove, cinnamon, spearmint, peppermint and myrrh may promote healthy flora balance in the mouth by regulating quorum sensing. (source)
Generally, a 1-2% dilution (3-6 drops in one tablespoon coconut oil) is considered appropriate, but according to Essential Oil Safety, cinnamon leaf and clove leaf should not be used at a dilution higher than 0.6% (about 7 drops in four tablespoons coconut oil). Clove bud should not be used at a dilution higher than 0.5% (2 drops in 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon coconut oil).
This Healthy Mouth blend is pre-diluted to 2% and can be used as-is to brush with or added to coconut oil to swish with.
A Quick How-To Guide To Coconut Oil Pulling
So, you’ve decided to try coconut oil pulling, but you’re not sure how to get started. No worries, it’s really simple.
- When you wake up – before drinking, eating, or brushing your teeth – place about a tablespoon of virgin coconut oil in your mouth and swish it for 5-20 minutes. Longer is typically considered better, but do what works best with your schedule. Personally, I love not having to talk for the first 20 minutes after I wake up.
- When you’re done, spit the oil into the garbage. Don’t swallow it or spit it into the sink/toilet.
Rinse with warm water, either plain or mixed with unrefined, mineral-rich sea salt. Mineral-rich saliva contributes to tooth remineralization, which is a normal biological response to ongoing demineralization from acidic foods, etc. (source 1, source 2)
Want to simplify your routine AND include a healthy, natural whitening ingredient in your oil pulling regimen? Check out this post on making coconut oil pulling chews with teeth whitening turmeric.