Coconut oil has been getting a lot of attention lately, and for good reason.
There have also been claims that it can clean and whiten your teeth, while helping to prevent tooth decay.
This article examines the latest research on coconut oil, your dental health and teeth.
What is Coconut Oil?
Coconut oil is an edible oil extracted from coconut meat, and is one of the world's richest sources of saturated fat.
However, coconut fat is unique because it is made almost entirely of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs).
MCTs are metabolized differently than the long-chain fatty acids found in most other foods, and have many potential health benefits.
Lauric acid is a medium-chain fatty acid that makes up almost 50% of coconut oil. In fact, this oil is the richest source of lauric acid known to man.
Your body breaks lauric acid down into a compound called monolaurin. Both lauric acid and monolaurin can kill harmful bacteria, fungi and viruses in the body.
According to research, lauric acid is more effective at killing these pathogens than any other saturated fatty acid ().
What's more, studies suggest that many of the health benefits associated with coconut oil are directly caused by lauric acid ().
The most popular ways to use coconut oil for your teeth are using it in a process called "oil pulling," or making toothpaste with it. Both are explained later in the article.
Bottom Line: Coconut oil is an edible oil extracted from the meat of coconuts. It is high in lauric acid, which has been known to kill harmful bacteria, fungi and viruses in the body.
Lauric Acid Can Kill Harmful Mouth Bacteria
One study tested 30 different fatty acids and compared their ability to fight bacteria.
Of all the fatty acids, lauric acid was the most effective ().
Lauric acid attacks harmful bacteria in the mouth that can cause bad breath, tooth decay and gum disease ().
It is particularly effective at killing an oral bacteria called Streptococcus mutans, which is a leading cause of tooth decay.
Bottom Line: The lauric acid in coconut oil attacks harmful bacteria in the mouth that can cause bad breath, tooth decay and gum disease.
It Can Reduce Plaque and Fight Gum Disease
Gum disease, also known as gingivitis, involves inflammation of the gums.
The main cause of gum disease is the buildup of dental plaque due to harmful bacteria in the mouth.
Current research shows that coconut oil can decrease plaque buildup on your teeth and fight gum disease.
In one study, oil pulling with coconut oil significantly decreased plaque buildup and signs of gingivitis in 60 participants with plaque-induced gum disease ().
What's more, a significant decrease in plaque was noticed after just 7 days of oil-pulling, and plaque continued to decrease over the 30-day study period.
After 30 days, the average plaque score decreased by 68% and the average gingivitis score decreased by 56%. This is a major decrease in both plaque and gum inflammation.
Bottom Line: Oil pulling with coconut oil helps decrease plaque buildup by attacking harmful mouth bacteria. It can also help fight gum disease.
It Can Prevent Tooth Decay and Loss
Coconut oil attacks Streptococcus mutans and Lactobacillus, which are the two groups of bacteria primarily responsible for tooth decay ().
Several studies suggest that coconut oil can reduce these bacteria as effectively as chlorhexidine, which is the active ingredient used in many mouth rinses (, , ).
For these reasons, coconut oil can help prevent tooth decay and loss.
Bottom Line: Coconut oil attacks the harmful bacteria that cause tooth decay. Studies have shown that it can be as effective as some mouth rinses.
How to Oil Pull With Coconut Oil
Oil pulling is a growing trend, but it's not a new concept.
In fact, the practice of oil pulling started in India thousands of years ago.
Oil pulling is the act of 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 around for 15–20 minutes, pushing and pulling it between teeth.
- Spit out the oil (into the trash or toilet, 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 are removing harmful bacteria and plaque from your mouth.
It's best to do this right away in the morning, before you eat or drink anything.
Here's more detailed info about how oil pulling can improve your dental health.
Bottom Line: Oil pulling is the act of swishing oil in your mouth for 15 to 20 minutes and then spitting it out. It removes harmful bacteria and plaque.
Homemade Toothpaste with Coconut Oil
Coconut oil has many uses, and you can also make your own toothpaste with it.
Here is a simple recipe:
- 0.5 cup coconut oil.
- 2 tablespoons baking soda.
- 10–20 drops of peppermint or cinnamon essential oil.
- Heat the coconut oil until it becomes soft or liquid.
- Stir in the baking soda and mix until it forms a paste-like consistency.
- Add the essential oil.
- Store toothpaste in a sealed container.
To use, scoop it with a small utensil or toothbrush. Brush for 2 minutes, then rinse.
Bottom Line: In addition to oil pulling, you can make your own toothpaste using coconut oil, baking soda and essential oil.
Take Home Message
Coconut oil attacks the harmful bacteria in your mouth.
It can reduce plaque buildup, prevent tooth decay and fight gum disease.
For these reasons, oil pulling or brushing your teeth with coconut oil can significantly improve oral and dental health.