I was first introduced to the practise of oil pulling nearly a decade ago – I’d casually mentioned to a Slovenian friend that I swished dilute tea tree oil around my mouth each day in place of mouth wash; she looked quite horrified and immediately asked “you do not use sea.sa.meeyol?” Huh? What on earth?

After figuring she meant sesame oil, she started to explain more about this ancient Ayurvedic practise.  Best done first thing in the morning and before breakfast, she advised.  Take a tablespoon of oil and swish it around your mouth for 15-20 minutes. The volume increases as you keep swishing but it is important not to swallow any.  Spit out the oil before brushing and flossing your teeth as normal.

Intrigued, I brought this practise back home. Initially I struggled to find sesame oil locally – you can get the toasted stuff (used for stir fries) easily enough but I had to go online to find the pale-golden, natural oil. So a few years ago I started using coconut oil.  I do now prefer this but you do need to spit-out into a container (such as an empty yoghurt pot) and discard with the trash to avoid blocking your drains.  Coconut oil contains lauric acid, capric acid and caprylic acid which give it antimicrobial, antioxidant, anti-fungal and antibacterial properties, plus it is soothing for tender gums.  I’ve also experimented with other oils and have found that rice bran oil also works quite well and is relatively inexpensive.  As for finding time, I’m often oil-pulling whilst in the shower, making the bed and getting dressed so it really can be fitted into a busy morning schedule without any sacrifice!

And the benefits?  Oil pulling gently removes bacteria from the mouth and the oil helps to protect your gums as well as lifting any coating from your tongue. Sugary food and drinks, harsh toothpastes, chemical-laden mouthwashes and alcohol all disrupt the delicate balance of oral flora; oil pulling helps to rebalance the pH of the mouth which in turn helps in preventing bacteria from building up. This practise has been around for thousands of years, meaning it pre-dates the toothbrush!  Ayurvedic practitioners believe that it not only improves the oral environment but can improve other health conditions too.  In particular they believe it can improve digestive disorders and boost the immune system – this makes sense as optimal digestion starts in the mouth and with more than 70% of your immune system centred in your gut, improving digestion is likely to improve immunity too.  In contrast, harsh mouthwashes can strip the mouth of delicate salivary enzymes and even good bacteria that get the digestion process started!

Sceptical?  Well why not just give it a try? I’ll just leave you with this thought though; you wouldn’t drink mouthwash so why put it in your mouth in the first place?