Could oil pulling for TMJ be your next favorite home remedy, or is it just another example of overblown coconut oil hype?

By now you’ve probably heard all about the miraculous healing powers of coconut oil, but have you heard of oil pulling for TMJ? Oil pulling is an ancient form of oral therapy drawn from Ayurvedic medicine, an Indian health tradition stretching back over 3,000 years. Basically, you’re supposed to swish a tablespoon of oil around in your mouth on an empty stomach for about 20 minutes.

Believers claim that the oil draws toxins out of the body, resulting in a wide range of benefits: whiter teeth, better breath, clearer skin, fewer headaches, a stronger immune system, and less jaw pain for sufferers of TMJ. However, there’s no scientific evidence to support these claims.

I tend to be skeptical of flashy detox trends that haven’t been backed up by research. Plus, the words “on an empty stomach” make my eyes glaze over. But I do love a good folk remedy, and I was definitely interested in the rumored benefits of oil pulling for TMJ pain relief and dental hygiene.

Coconut oil is a perfectly adequate natural mouthwash substitute, thanks to the presence of Vitamin E in all its antioxidant, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal glory. (Coconut oil also contains Vitamins A, D, and K, whose individual properties might contribute to all those other rumored benefits.) And as a TMJ sufferer, I could easily imagine how swishing a hearty mouthful of something for twenty minutes could help to relax the joint muscles responsible for jaw pain.

So a couple of weeks ago, I bounded cheerfully into the Spa Week office with a jar of coconut oil from Trader Joe’s and presented it to my coworkers. “Guys!” I cried. “We can all try oil pulling for a week! It’ll be fabulous!” They slowly turned in their chairs, looked at the jar, looked at me, and sighed grimly. Oil pulling: Not a crowd-pleaser. I finally managed to thrust spoons into the hands of two sporting ladies, and it was bombs away.

Oil Pulling for TMJ:

The First Swish is the Grossest

At room temperature, coconut oil is more like a paste than an oil. A weird, mealy, crumbly, clumpy, chunky, slippery paste. Within five seconds, my two comrades were groping for paper towels to spit out their spoonfuls. I kept swishing and scowled in disapproval as they abandoned ship, determined to stick with my mission.

I can’t lie to you: The first few seconds are gross. That texture feels completely disgusting, and the taste is less like coconut and more like “vaguely coconut-ish weird goo.” If the flavor were a color, it would be a bland gray.

But! Within thirty seconds or so, the nasty texture had disappeared and I no longer noticed the taste at all. Once I realized it just felt like swishing a big mouthful of water, I knew I could handle it. My coworkers, however, moved on to better things.

Oil Pulling for TMJ:

The Benefits

I was determined to stick with my oil pulling for TMJ experiment for at least a week, but I was surprised by how quickly I felt the results. As soon as I spat out my first mouthful (more on that in a minute), my mouth felt totally cleansed and my breath tasted empty and odorless. My teeth, too, felt smooth and clean. I’m a bit fanatical about oral hygiene — baking soda and peroxide are my idea of a good time — so I was surprised by how satisfying I found coconut oil as a mouthwash.

But I was still more interested in the benefits of oil pulling for TMJ. I can confidently state that swishing my big mouthful of oil around for twenty minutes had a very soothing effect on my chronic jaw pain. There’s no doubt about it: On the days I tried oil pulling for TMJ, I had noticeably less jaw pain than usual.

Not convinced? Okay, how about this: Today, thanks to a sudden change in the weather, I’ve been dealing with a major flare-up of jaw pain along with a headache. As I sat down to write this article, I decided to try oil pulling for TMJ one more time. Twenty minutes later, I absolutely feel better. There’s no question in my mind that oil pulling for TMJ is worth a shot if you suffer from jaw pain.

However, I’m not convinced that the benefits of oil pulling for TMJ have anything to do with coconut oil. I’m not even sure they have to do with oil pulling at all. It seems to me that the soothing results come from the prolonged act of swishing, which forces you to stretch your cheeks and loosen up your jaw. I can’t think of any reason why swishing a mouthful of water around for twenty minutes wouldn’t have the exact same effect. Could water pulling be the next big thing in wellness? You read it here first.

Oil Pulling for TMJ:

The Drawbacks

The first few moments of swishing did not get easier. I dreaded every spoonful of mealy coconut gunk, even though I knew the texture would dissolve in about ten seconds.

There’s also the spitting. Coconut oil solidifies when it cools, so you can’t spit it in the sink. Spitting that mouthful of grayish-white ooze into paper bags and cups made me feel weird and gross. Oil pulling for TMJ is not an elegant affair.

All in all, I was impressed by the benefits of oil pulling for TMJ. But the next time my jaw starts to hurt, I might just try swishing with water. I’ll let you know how it goes. Meanwhile, if you’re suffering from TMJ, try these three easy tricks for relief.

Have you tried oil pulling for TMJ? Tell us how it went in the comments!

2 Responses

  1. Cynthia

    I don’t understand how it helps because I can’t get thru 5 minutes of swishing. Not because of the taste but because my jaw hurts so bad. My tmj comes and goes. It has t been so bad lately but I’m worried that oil pulling will exacerbate the issue.

    • Sandra

      @ Cynthia: Same here! After 10 minutes everything hurts so bad, that I have to stop swishing. But from initially only 2-3 minutes I am now already at 10 and hoping to increase the time even further.


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