Our culture loves a sparkling white grin. And fresh breath. And, generally speaking, a healthy, cavity-free mouth. I can admit to being a fan of all these things myself.

So, when I decided recently that I wanted to brighten my smile a bit without making an expensive trip to the dentist, I marched down to my local pharmacy and purchased a box of one of those brand-name, band-aid type products designed to be slapped onto my lower and upper teeth for about 30 minutes per day over the next week or two.

But, after day one, there was a snag in my plan. The whitening gel on the strips had not only left my teeth and tongue feeling overly sensitive, but also imparted a very bleach-like taste in my mouth that stubbornly hung on for the next 24 hours—no matter how many times I tried to brush, swish, eat or drink it away.

Not wanting to face this same fate again the next day, I suddenly thought, “Could something made of chemicals that’s this potent possibly be good for me?” Given that I’m typically a pretty natural person, I began to wonder why I made this purchase in the first place. Well, because I wanted white teeth, obviously!

So, in came oil pulling.

If you haven’t heard of this old (and I mean very old) turned new again idea, oil pulling is the ancient Ayurvedic practice of holding about a tablespoon or two of cold-pressed, wholesome oil (such as coconut, olive, sesame, or sunflower) in your mouth and gently swirling it around for about 20 minutes before spitting it out.

Oil pulling is supposed to be done first thing in the morning every day on an empty stomach, and is thought by many holistic specialists to have a wide range of health benefits, due it’s ability to draw toxins out of the mouth, as well as from other parts the body.

Here are a few of the things Ayurvedic health practitioners and purveyors of this technique have reported when practiced regularly:

  • Overall strengthening of the teeth, gums, and jaw
  • Fewer or no cavities
  • Fresher breath
  • Whiter teeth, removal of stains from foods like coffee, tea, or red wine
  • Relief from gingivitis, bleeding gums, and other mouth infections
  • Reduction in plaque and tarter build up
  • Reduction in chapped lips
  • Relief from sinus congestions and infections
  • Sore throat relief
  • Prevention or shortened duration of the common cold and other illness like strep throat
  • Headache and migraine relief
  • Shortened duration of hangovers
  • Reduction in allergy symptoms
  • Reduction of eczema
  • Better digestion, and fewer digestive problems like heartburn, GERD, or gastroenteritis
  • Correction of hormone imbalances
  • Improvement in arthritis pain
  • General pain relief

So does it work? While most conventional health practitioners, including dentists and the ADA, say there is not much evidence say that it does (mostly due to the fact that there haven’t been many wide-spread studies done on it yet), they also admit that it won’t do most people any harm.

As for me, I’m only a few days in, but I already notice a few differences in terms of fresher breath and generally smoother, plaque-free teeth. I’ll also mention that I have some pretty tricky tonsils that get sore from time to time, and that when they do begin to act up, one oil-pulling session is usually all it takes to get them back to normal again.

There is one downside, however: try getting your kids ready for school each morning while not being able to talk because you have a mouthful of coconut oil. Not sure how long that is going to last, from a strictly practical sense. Thankfully, my kids have a sense of humor, and they’re used to their mom’s non-traditional ways.