Ah, oil pulling. I had heard this mentioned for years but never exactly knew what was involved until I saw the trend popping up all over my social media feeds. Oil pulling is basically swishing oil around in your mouth for about 20 minutes. Jessica T. Emery, DMD, and owner of Sugar Fix Dental Loft told WebMD that the super popular trend "involves swishing approximately [one] tablespoon of oil — typically coconut, sesame, or sunflower oil — in your mouth for about 20 minutes and then spitting it out." I was already a coconut oil devotée, using it for dry skin, to fry veggies, to mix with aromatherapy oils, but I had never tried oil pulling with coconut oil.
The much-touted benefits of oil pulling include whiter teeth, an energy boost, clearer skin, and better overall oral health. Oiling pulling also helps reduce headaches, reduces hormonal changes, and helps rid your body of toxins. You're supposed to do it first thing in the morning, before you eat or drink anything. I'll be honest: swishing oil around my mouth sounded pretty darn gross. But I find coconut oil non-offensive, and I've been curious for a long time, so I figured why not? And went for it.
With the knowledge that I'd willingly be swishing coconut oil in my mouth over a seven-day period, I set forth with my experiment. I wanted try oil pulling for the prescribed 20 minutes a day for a week mainly just to see if all the buzz was true. Did it work? Would I see changes after seven days? (Or would I see them sooner?) I don't suffer from debilitating migraines (though I do get headaches often) or severe joint pain, but I was interested in the overall benefits: clearer skin, a healthier body, and improved oral health. I planned going to pay attention to things like my breath, my teeth, my headaches (which I get with annoying frequency), and my overall feelings of health. I remained skeptical but willing.
This is what happened:
I should have set a special alarm on that first day, one that would say: "Hey, dummy, don't brush your teeth or eat anything yet because you need to swish some oil!" But I didn't. So I got up. My mouth was its usual cotton from the dry winter air, so I stumbled to the sink to brush my teeth.
I'm gonna come clean about something here: Sometimes I fall asleep without brushing. I know. It's gross and probably pretty bad for my teeth. But it's only started happening as a result of having kids and accidentally falling asleep with them almost every night.
Anyway, on day one I brushed my teeth and scurried around trying to get my kindergartener on the bus. Only when I started snacking on his discarded waffle did I remember that I wasn't supposed to eat or brush before swishing the oil around in my mouth. I was also super thirsty, so I was really cursing myself that I hadn't gotten it over with yet because now I'd have to wait the half hour or so for the waffle to digest a bit before trying the oil pulling for the first time.
You're supposed to oil pull on an empty stomach because, according to Mama Natural, doing so helps to activate the enzymes and helps pull toxins, fungus, and bacteria, from your body before you start putting anything into it. Day one, and I was off to a bad start. After waiting a decent amount of time for my breakfast to digest, I pulled out my measuring spoons, and realized that, oh my god, a tablespoon is huge. Putting that much oil in mouth seemed like such a bad idea. I was immediately worried "what if I swallow it!?" Then realized, so what if I swallow it? It's just coconut oil.
The coconut oil was rock solid from the cold, but I figured it'd melt quickly enough in my mouth. Spoiler alert? That's not the case. I basically cheeked the oil for like, five minutes before it was swishable, and it still had solid bits. Blech.
Oddly enough, as the swishing began, I started to feel a little less thirsty. Perhaps it was because I was so parched and all the swishing was causing me to produce a lot of saliva.
After 15 minutes (whatever, I was close enough), I spat the oil into a paper towel (because you really aren't supposed to spit it in the sink as it might junk up your pipes). I'm fascinated with gross things like pore strips so I studied the oil, hoping it would be totally gross, but mostly it just looked frothy.
On the upside though, my mouth felt really clean. I could see the appeal.
On day two I remembered to oil pull first thing in the morning so I tortured myself with not brushing or eating or drinking while I got my son ready for school. Yes, I could wake up earlier and do this, but I didn't want to get out of bed. It's too cold for that.
I put on a TV show for my daughter so she wouldn't try to talk to me for the 20 minutes that I needed in order to oil pull, which didn't end up working. I also had the genius idea of warming the oil up first. I put it in a mug and microwaved it for about 30 seconds and that's all it took for the big block of coconut to turn to liquid.
My daughter was not watching her show as much as she was watching me. Somehow she hadn't noticed me doing this the day before, but today she was rapt. She thought it looked fun, so she grabbed a crumb from the edge of the jar, popped it in her mouth, looked at me with these wide, disturbed eyes and spat it out. I didn't think she'd be trying that again any time soon. Although maybe she just needs it warmed up for her?
She then realized I was taking pictures of myself and TOTALLY wanted to join in.
After pulling on day two, my mouth felt really great — especially after doing it for the full 20 minutes. I ran upstairs to brush my teeth and they seriously felt like they were dentist-level clean. Maybe that's just some oil making them slicker, but maybe not, because I'm sure I had probably brushed off most of the oil. I was totally committed to keep going.
Day three was basically a repeat of day two. There was so much swishing. And then so much ooh-ing and aah-ing over how great my teeth felt.
I was shocked that three days into this experiment had left me feeling so good about my oral hygiene. I felt like I was smiling wider and much, much more confident in my appearance. I wasn't as conscious of my breath or worried that harsh toxins were taking root in my mouth.
I decided it was time to switch it up. I'd been using whatever coconut oil I could get at my usual grocery store, but on a whim, I got the expensive stuff. It was touted as being unrefined and pure and virgin. Well, I'm unrefined if not the other two, so I thought I'd give it a shot.
I opened the jar and, OMG, the smell was amazing. Like pour-me-a-piña-colada-and-stick-me-on-a-beach amazing. The taste was definitely nuttier, where I hadn't noticed a taste at all with the more refined version. And I was getting considerably more comfortable with the process. So I was happily swishing it all around my mouth, whereas before I realized I had sort of been gluing my tongue to the roof of my mouth so I wouldn't accidentally swallow it. It already freshened my teeth, I wanted to let it work its magic on my tongue.
Nothing really new or remarkable happened during my swishing session on the fifth day, except I had a revelation: I hadn't gotten a migraine since I started oil pulling. This could be good luck or it could be that I'd eaten enough protein or drank enough water. But the really remarkable bit was that I had been on my period this whole time. I never escape the first few days of my period without a killer migraine.
I know this is hardly the scientific evidence that we should all be oil pulling every morning, but I was pretty pleased, and if I don't continue oil pulling indefinitely, it might be worth a try a try during my period.
I also continued to notice the effects on the way my teeth and my breath all felt fresher all the time. The only problem I had with it so far was that it was still hard for me to not talk for the 20 minutes.
I swished again on day six, and I told my friends about it. Since the experiment was going well and I was full enjoying the benefits of the miraculous, delicious-smelling coconut, I thought it was time to spread the word to my inner circle.
Despite my wide (bright and shiny) smile and my insistence that I thought it was really working, my friends and my mom thought I was nuts. Mostly they responded:
Using oil as mouthwash? Oil? For 20 minutes!?
I mean, I guess I was pretty skeptical at first. And, yeah, it does seem rather weird. But I swear it's not that gross! It's the opposite of gross! My teeth have never felt better! I was bummed my friends weren't on board, but I'm sure they'll change their tunes eventually.
I had reached the end of my experiment. It was my last day of removing my toxins via coconut oil (if I didn't want to keep going.) And tragedy struck, I dropped and shattered my beautiful glass jar of virgin coconut oil. I was pretty bummed, especially because cleaning glass when your 2 year old is barefoot and oblivious and you have to keep yelling at her to stay away is not the most fun.
I still had my other jar of less-fun oil, so that would have to do. And as a side bonus, that day I was going to be on TV. (I know. VIP over here.) I really wanted my teeth to be bright and sparkly. I was confident that my smile looked good. And really, I'd never been more thankful for a mouthful of oil ever before in my life. The week-long oil pulling experiment had worked as far as I was concerned, and I walked onto the stage feeling much more confident in my smile than I'd probably ever been before.
Even in all the hubbub of trying to get ready and pick out an outfit and eat something that wouldn't make me feel sick, I managed to fit in my oil pulling. Aside from the first day, incorporating it into my routine hadn't been that difficult. After all, I can do anything short of talking and eating (which, admittedly, are two of my favorite things) while I'm pulling.
One aspect of oil pulling I think I should mention though, because it freaked me out at first, was the fact that everything I'd read emphasized that you shouldn't swallow the oil. (And, I mean, trust me, I wasn't about to.) Because it's going to be full of gross stuff and toxins. But I was surprised by that because other than being frothier having been combined vigorously with my saliva, the oil didn't look or taste gross when I was done.
OK, I admit I was pretty sold. My teeth have never felt better. I skipped the dreaded period migraines. (It didn't cure cramps though. Darn.) Also, I had fresher morning breath. That's pretty huge, because morning breath is the worst part of the morning. (Except for waking up and getting out of bed.) I'm honestly considering trying it on my kids because ... man, they have some serious morning breath, guys.
I'm sort of relieved to be done with the experiment so if I forget to do it in my morning rush, I won't feel so terrible. The biggest relief I got from this week is the knowledge that if I'm ever stuck on a desert island without a toothbrush all I have to do is dehusk a coconut and press it into oil.