Coconut oil continues to shine for its health-boosting properties, and rightfully so.
While most people are familiar with its numerous health benefits and keeping your hair and skin healthy, it’s also been used for thousands of years to improve dental health.
In particular, it’s been used in Ayurvedic medicine to clean and whiten teeth, reduce halitosis (bad breath), and improve gum health.
This article reviews the latest research on coconut oil and how it benefits your teeth.
What is coconut oil?
Coconut oil is an edible oil extracted from coconut meat and is one of the world’s richest plant-based sources of saturated fat.
The primary type of fat in coconut oil is lauric acid, a 12-carbon (C12) medium-chain triglyceride (MCT), and it makes up around half of the coconut oil. It also contains small amounts of palmitic (C16) and myristic (C14) acid.
Interestingly, the fatty acids in coconut oil have been associated with having antibacterial properties, which may benefit your oral health. In particular, lauric acid and monolaurin (a monoglyceride form of lauric acid) are associated with having antimicrobial properties.
Ayurvedic medicine has used coconut oil as an antimicrobial for centuries to promote dental health through a process known as “oil pulling,” which is believed to rid the mouth of bacteria that lead to tooth decay and bad breath.
Coconut oil is easy to find in most grocery stores or online. While wide varieties are available, most people prefer extra-virgin coconut oil due to its better taste and limited processing.
Summary: Coconut oil is an edible oil extracted from the meat of coconuts. It’s high in lauric acid, which may have antimicrobial properties to promote better oral health.
Coconut oil and oral health
Oil pulling is when a person swishes coconut oil in their mouth and around their teeth. Though more research is needed, it may support the health of your teeth, gums, and oral cavity.
Along with its antimicrobial properties, swishing oil in the mouth is believed to have a saponification — or cleansing — effect to help reduce the adhesion of bacteria and plaque to the teeth.
Coconut oil may remove harmful mouth bacteria
Coconut oil may help to attack harmful bacteria in the mouth that can cause bad breath, tooth decay, and gum disease.
It’s particularly effective at killing an oral bacteria called Streptococcus mutans (S. mutans), a leading cause of tooth decay. It may also reduce another prevalent bacteria known as Candida albicans.
One randomized study in 60 people found a significant reduction in S. mutans bacteria from oil pulling with coconut oil (10 milliliters per day) for 2 weeks. This was comparable to chlorhexidine, a common antibacterial ingredient in a standard mouth rinse.
Another study in 50 children ages 8 to 12 observed a significant reduction in S. mutans bacteria from oil pulling with coconut oil for 2 to 3 minutes daily for 30 days. Results were similar in the control group using chlorhexidine, suggesting coconut oil may be equally effective.
That said, a 2020 review suggests stronger powered, randomized controlled studies are needed to better understand oil pulling as an effective treatment for ridding mouth bacteria.
Coconut oil may reduce plaque and fight gum disease
Gum disease, also known as gingivitis, involves inflammation of the gums. The leading cause of gum disease is the buildup of dental plaque due to harmful bacteria in the mouth which is associated with poor oral hygiene.
Current research shows that coconut oil may help to decrease plaque buildup on your teeth and reduce inflammation to fight gum disease.
Suggested read: 6 simple ways to naturally whiten your teeth at home
In one pilot study, oil pulling with coconut oil for 30 days significantly decreased plaque buildup and signs of gingivitis in 60 participants with plaque-induced gum disease.
After 30 days, the average plaque score decreased by 68%, and the average gingivitis score decreased by 56%. That said, the study lacked a control group.
Another pilot study also showed significant reductions in plaque index and blood (gum bleeding) index scores after oil pulling for 20 minutes daily for 30 days.
Finally, a 7-day randomized study also had similar results after oil pulling with coconut oil for 10 minutes daily. However, the control group (mineral water rinse) had similar results, suggesting rinsing the mouth routinely may play a more significant role in reducing plaque build-up.
While these studies show promising results, more extensive, randomized controlled clinical trials are needed.
Coconut oil may prevent bad breath
Halitosis, better known as bad breath, is a common oral health issue. While certain medical conditions and medications can exacerbate bad breath, up to 85% of bad breath is caused by poor oral hygiene and oral health.
Gingivitis, tooth decay, film on the tongue, food debris, and a build-up of bacteria can lead to an unpleasant mouth odor.
If you struggle with bad breath, oil pulling with coconut oil may help. Coconut oil contains antimicrobial properties that may rid the mouth of odor-causing bacteria. Moreover, it may help reduce the build-up of food debris on the teeth, inner cheeks, and tongue.
A randomized pilot trial observed a significant reduction in organoleptic breath assessment and self-reported breath scores after oil pulling with sesame oil. Coconut oil contains similar saponification and antimicrobial properties to sesame oil, which may lead to similar results.
Randomized controlled trials, specifically on coconut oil, are needed.
Suggested read: 10 evidence-based health benefits of coconut oil
Summary: Coconut oil’s antibacterial properties may reduce harmful mouth bacteria that lead to tooth decay, plaque buildup, and bad breath. However, more research is needed.
How to oil pull with coconut oil
Oil pulling is a growing trend, but it’s not new. The practice of oil pulling started in India thousands of years ago.
Oil pulling is swishing oil in your mouth for 15 to 20 minutes and then spitting it out. In other words, it’s like using oil as a mouthwash.
Here’s how to do it:
- Put a tablespoon of coconut oil in your mouth.
- Swish the oil for 15–20 minutes, pushing and pulling it between teeth.
- Spit out the oil (into the trash since it can clog sink pipes).
- Brush your teeth.
The fatty acids in the oil attract and trap bacteria, so each time you oil pull, you remove harmful bacteria and plaque from your mouth.
Doing this right in the morning before you eat or drink anything is best.
Summary: Oil pulling is swishing oil in your mouth for 15–20 minutes and then spitting it out. It removes harmful bacteria and plaque.
Oral hygiene tips
While oil pulling with coconut oil can be a great addition to your oral hygiene routine, it should not replace standard mouth care.
The best way to maintain a healthy mouth is to brush and floss your teeth twice daily using fluoride toothpaste. Also, scrape or brush your tongue and inner cheeks using your toothbrush or a gentle tongue scraper.
Additionally, drinking water throughout the day, limiting sugary beverages and foods, avoiding smoking, eating a nutritious diet, and visiting your dentist regularly are all effective strategies for a healthy mouth.
Summary: While coconut oil may support a healthy mouth, it should not replace standard oral hygiene practices. Effective strategies include brushing and flossing twice daily, using fluoride toothpaste, eating a nutritious diet, and avoiding smoking.
Coconut oil has been used for centuries as an effective oral hygiene practice.
Current research suggests oil pulling with coconut oil (swishing oil in your mouth for 10 to 20 minutes) may reduce harmful bacteria in the mouth, prevent gingivitis and tooth decay, and get rid of bad breath. That said, more research is needed.
If you’re interested in using coconut oil to promote a healthy mouth, do it alongside other oral hygiene practices, such as brushing and flossing your teeth.