How does oil pulling work and is the TikTok-favorite trend safe?

A new dental fad is taking over FYPs, but should you attempt it?

woman holding toothbrush near lid of powdery substance
(Image credit: Aliaksandr Barysenka / EyeEm)

"How does oil pulling work?" Now that the trend has emerged on FYPs, people are becoming curious.

Though TikTok has helped us out in a pinch—the TikTok jeans hack and bun hack are a few of our favorites—the video sharing platform can become a viral breeding ground for misinformation and bad ideas. (We don't need to remind you about the lube as primer trend again, right?)

When it come to tips and time-saving tidbits, we are all for making our lives easier, but we have to proceed cautiously when it comes to our health, even if the likes of oil pulling seem simple, effective and wholistic. Allow us to fill you in on the trend.

How does oil pulling work, exactly?

@kirtitewani (opens in new tab)

♬ original sound - Kirti Tewani - Ayurveda (opens in new tab)

For those who are unfamiliar with the dental term, oil pulling involves swishing sunflower oil, sesame seed oil and other similar products in your mouth for health benefits, such as teeth whitening, removing bacteria and eliminating odors. This can take place anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes, though about 15 minutes is typically the average time.

According to Healthline (opens in new tab), the practice is associated with Ayurveda, the traditional medicine system from India. Studies have indicated that the dental trick pulls bacteria from the mouth, all while massaging gums and increasing saliva, both of which are believed to be effective against fighting bacteria that cause bad breath, cavities and so forth.  

Is oil pulling safe?

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As Healthline indicates, there's research on the topic...but not enough to discern whether or not oil pulling is effective, and most importantly, safe. Likewise, Dr. Tara Francis (opens in new tab), a cosmetic dentist and advanced facial aesthetician, agrees. 

"There’s currently not enough scientific data to give a definite answer on whether oil pulling is beneficial," she tells My Imperfect Life. "If you do decide to practice oil pulling, it should not be a replacement to good oral hygiene which should include brushing twice a day and cleaning between your teeth with floss and/or interdental brushes."

On TikTok, you'll likely see mixed reviews: some people feel inclined to show show off their bright, shiny choppers, which are allegedlly a result of oil pulling. Others poke fun at the fad and would prefer to stick to other methods. 

(Psst: regardless of how you feel about the new dental trend, do not spit any type of oil down the drain after attempting, unless you are prepared to call the plumbers.) 

Meet the expert: Dr. Tara Francis

A dentist and advanced facial aesthetician, Dr. Tara Francis holds a degree from Kings College London. Today, she operates Enhanced by Tara (opens in new tab), which provides treatments such as derma fillers and micro-pigmentation, to name a few.

Oil pulling alternative

Fortunately, there are other methods to try if you're iffy about oil pulling, but they should not be in place of brushing or flossing. 

"Tongue scraping is a great alternative," Dr. Francis tells us. "It can remove unwanted dead cells and harmful bacteria that can contribute to gum inflammation, cavities and bad breath. It can also improve your taste by helping to remove any debris blocking the taste cells. 

It even has its benefits when it comes to stomachs. 

"Tongue scraping can also help aid digestion, as the digestive process starts in the mouth and scraping can activate enzymes needed for this."

Oil pulling: the bottom line

It could be difficult to discern whether or not this one is effective and worth your time. If you're on the fence, there's only one solution, according to Dr. Surina Sehgal (opens in new tab) (a.k.a. the foodie dentist). 

"If you see something on an online trend you should ask your dentist if it is ok to use it," she said on ITV's Lorraine, according to Liverpool Echo (opens in new tab). "Never use a product for your teeth if it hasn't been advised."

There you have it folks—until you get the green light (or red light) from your dentist, you're going to have to stick to old-fashioned methods like using a clean brush, flossing regularly and opting for effective mouthwash.

Danielle Valente

Danielle is a writer for woman&home and My Imperfect Life, covering all-things news, lifestyle and entertainment. 


The heart of her time at Future has been devoted to My Imperfect Life, where she's been attuned to the cosmos, new TV shows and relationship trends.  


Before her time at Future, Danielle was the editor of Time Out New York Kids and a news editor at Elite Daily. Her work has also appeared in Domino, Chowhound, amNewYork and Newsday, among other outlets. 


When Danielle is not working, you can usually find her reading a book, coffee at hand, or attempting a new recipe. (Recommendations always welcome!)