Oil pulling is the process of swishing oil in the mouth for a predetermined amount of time each day to help remove bacteria and protect against gingivitis and plaque, according to WebMD. The practice began in India thousands of years ago and eventually spread to users all over the world.
People often use coconut, sesame or sunflower oil when they perform oil pulling. The goal of the task is to swish a tablespoon of oil in the mouth for approximately 20 minutes before spitting it out. Some people find it easier to work up gradually to the 20-minute mark. A person can start with 5 to 10 minutes and gradually work up to 20 after a few days or a week. Gentle swishing makes the process easier and is all that's needed.
A person should avoid swallowing the oil. If the urge to swallow is too great, the person can spit small amounts out and continue swishing. Spitting the oil in the sink can cause clogging, so the individual should spit the oil in a trash can.
The American Dental Association says the practice of oil pulling arose centuries ago in India and Southeast Asia as a method of improving oral hygiene. No scientific studies have convincingly demonstrated that oil pulling reduces the incidence of cavities or whitens teeth. Some scattered case reports indicate that oil pulling can cause health problems, such as nausea and aspiration of oil into the lungs.
As noted by WebMD, oil pulling is not a substitute for brushing and flossing. It is a supplemental practice to rid the mouth of bacteria that brushing and flossing do not reach. It can help prevent tooth decay, but it doesn't reverse it.