“Darling, where’s the coconut oil?” “It’s in the bathroom!” This exchange is becoming ever more prevalent in American households as more and more people discover the incredible benefits of coconut oil, not only as a delicious and healthy fat to add to recipes, but as a beneficial beauty product in the bathroom. I have been using coconut oil for quite some time now as an after-shower moisturizer, burn soother and even shave cream (seriously, say goodbye to razor burn.) But even I was a little skeptical when a friend recently told me about how she loves to use coconut oil to clean her mouth. Yes, that’s right. She swishes oil around in her mouth everyday. And likes it.
This method of cleansing is called Oil Pulling and its roots go back thousands of years to India, where it first appeared in Ayurvedic texts. It is a method of ridding the body of toxins through the mouth by pulling pus, mucus, germs and unwanted waste through the cheeks, gums and tongue. It has proven oral benefits including whitening teeth, reduction of plaque, prevention of gingivitis and improved breath. However, in Ayurvedic medicine, it is also used as a way to balance the whole body as it purges lymph nodes and glands of toxins. Since oral health is so closely linked to overall wellness, many people experience clearer sinuses, reduction in digestive issues, better sleep and increased energy, among other benefits. Oil pulling involves swishing a tablespoon of oil around the mouth, through the teeth and over the tongue and gums for 10-20 minutes in the morning. Traditional oils include sesame, sunflower and other vegetable oils, but the use of coconut oil adds antimicrobial and antibiotic benefits (and it tastes good!)
Even after learning about the benefits of oil pulling, I was still a little hesitant to put a big chunk of coconut oil in my mouth each morning. Raw, virgin coconut oil comes hardened due to its melting point, so waiting for the spoonful to melt inside my mouth was a little uncomfortable at first. Coconut oil melts at around 76 °F (24 °C), so keeping my oil in a warmer spot solved that problem. I started by oil pulling while I took a shower, because who really has time to sit there on the couch and swish for 20 minutes in the morning? Going about your morning routine while doing your oil pulling is a great way to help integrate it into your day.
After your shower is through or 20 minutes have elapsed, spit the oil into the trashcan or toilet. Continually spitting into a drain could eventually result in clogged sinks as the oil builds up and hardens. Try not to swallow any of the oil since it will now be full of all the aforementioned nasties. Immediately brush your teeth, paying special attention to your tongue, cheeks and the roof of your mouth. Rinse out your mouth with water very well. You might begin to notice an increase in mucus production right away. Even on my very first day of oil pulling, my nose began to run and I had to spit and cough after the cleaning (much to my husband’s dismay). This is the body’s natural reaction to the loss of toxins and in my experience, it goes away shortly after repeated and habitual oil pulling.
The taste of the coconut oil is great and after a week or so the unusual texture of a mouthful of oil slowly started to feel like a good and cleansing one, similar to that post-brushing feeling. After a week, I began to notice a significant difference in the color of my teeth. I have always shied away from harsh bleaches, which are loaded with chemicals and typically made by non-vegan companies, but I always wanted a little extra sparkle in my smile. Even in a short time, oil pulling whitened my teeth without the use of dangerous ingredients. I also noticed clearer sinuses and less sniffles and allergies. I even made it through an office-wide summer flu outbreak without a single sniff (perhaps it was the oil pulling or that extra helping of kale on my plate—who can say for sure?!).
I have been oil pulling for about a month now and it has become one of my favorite routines. I feel cleaner, lighter and clearer after doing it and on days when I forget or am out of town, I miss it. Give it a try for a few weeks and see how your body reacts. If coconut oil isn’t your thing, play around with different oils to find the texture and taste that suits your body. Ayurvedic medicine suggests the use of various oils for differing body types, so consider finding out which body type you are and which oil suits your needs best. There is an enormous amount of information on the Internet and in print on the subject of Ayurveda and even specifically for oil pulling, but a great beginner’s book is The Complete Illustrated Guide to Ayurveda by Warrier and Gunwant.
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Photo: Claire-Marie Harris