Could ‘oil pulling’ brighten L.A. smiles?

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The first time Heather Navarro tried swishing a tablespoon of coconut oil around her mouth, she gagged. “It took a little getting used to,” the L.A.-based media producer admits. “But in the end, I lasted 15 minutes.”

Navarro is talking about oil pulling, an ancient Indian remedy said to improve oral health. If you’ve been on Pinterest or read a celebrity magazine in the last few months, you’ve probably heard about it. As far as health trends go, oil pulling is the new kale. It’s coconut water 2.0. In other words, says Navarro, “it’s the latest Los Angeles craze.”

Here’s how it works: Put a tablespoon of oil in your mouth. Any type of oil will do, as long as it’s natural, unrefined and organic. Coconut and sesame oil are the most common because they taste good.


Swish the oil around in your mouth and “pull” it through your teeth for 20 minutes. Sounds like a long time? Try doing it while you’re getting ready in the morning, taking a shower or catching up on Netflix. (Just make sure it’s not a comedy.) When you’re done, spit the oil in the trash. You don’t want to swallow it or spit it down the sink.

If you manage to stick it out for a few weeks, you just might notice your teeth are a little whiter, your breath is a bit fresher and your mouth feels cleaner. At least, that’s what regular users, such as Gwyneth Paltrow, have found. Some people even claim that oil pulling can cure a hangover.

It sounds like magic, but as Rammohan Rao, a teacher at the California College of Ayurveda in Nevada City, Calif., explains, “Oil [naturally] limits the growth of bacteria. That’s why it has always been used to preserve and pickle things.”

Rao believes that the same antibacterial action occurs in your mouth while you’re swishing, but he cannot say for certain. He said he hasn’t seen reliable scientific studies to back up the anecdotal reports.

That hasn’t stopped Navarro and a host of others from trying out this ancient Ayurvedic practice. Mandi Kuester, a hairstylist and colorist in Manhattan Beach, likes the fact that oil pulling is a natural alternative to mouthwash: “I breathe in chemicals all day long in the hair salon. So I try to be really mindful about what else I’m putting in my body.”