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If you’ve walked down the dental aisle at your local drugstore—or even if you’ve simply scrolled through your Instagram feed—chances are, you’ve come across coconut oil-infused oral care products. Whether it’s in adorably-packaged floss, environmentally-friendly toothpaste, or gentle mouthwash, coconut oil is popping up everywhere.
And now, some people even swear by its whitening abilities. While some word-of-mouth health and beauty trends absolutely live up to the hype, when it comes to oral care, it’s important for science to back it up. With this in mind, we chatted with dentists April Patterson, DDS; Angelique Freking, DDS; and Chris Salierno, DDS, to find out whether or not coconut oil can really whiten your teeth. Keep reading to find out what they had to say.
Meet the Expert
- April Patterson, DDS, is a South Florida-based cosmetic and restorative dentist.
- Angelique Freking, DDS, is the dental director of Park Slope Dentistry Seventh Avenue in New York City.
- Chris Salierno, DDS, is a Long Island, New York-based dentist and the chief dental officer at Tend.
Is It Safe to Whiten Your Teeth With Coconut Oil?
Safe? Yes. Effective? Sadly, no.
“Coconut oil alone is not entirely effective,” says Patterson. “Truth be told, coconut oil does not contain any whitening properties, but when people use coconut oil on their teeth, they begin paying more attention to their oral hygiene by thoroughly examining their teeth and gums and brushing more often, leading to healthier gums and whiter teeth.” In that way, Patterson says that it’s more about creating a consistent oral care routine than the addition of coconut oil.
“The only proven, safe way to whiten your teeth is the application of hydrogen peroxide or its derivative, carbamide peroxide,” says Freking. “Anything else claiming to whiten your teeth is simply relying on the temporary effect of dehydrating your teeth, which makes them appear brighter for a few hours.”
Confused as to why coconut oil has become such a popular oral care staple if it’s not beneficial? According to Freking, it has its perks—just not for whitening. “Coconut oil isn’t an effective active ingredient for oral care, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a lot of love for Cocofloss,” she says, referencing the trendy coconut oil-infused polyester filament floss. “It smells good, has cute packaging, and is environmentally responsible. The mechanical action of the floss removes plaque, and the wax and coconut oil on the floss helps it to glide easily between the teeth.”
Who Should Avoid Whitening Their Teeth With Coconut Oil
Remember, coconut oil on its own doesn’t whiten teeth. It can, however, make them appear temporarily brighter. With that in mind, if you’d still like to add coconut oil to your oral care routine, Patterson says that it’s fine to do so as long as you’re not allergic to the ingredient. “Otherwise, there are no harmful side effects to using coconut oil,” she assures us.
How to Use Coconut Oil in Your Oral Care Routine
When it comes to (attempting to) whiten your teeth with coconut oil, Freking frets that it’s simply not worthwhile. “Sorry guys, there is no best way, it doesn’t work,” she says. “Instead, choose a whitening product with hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide as its active ingredient.” That said, if you’re hell-bent on putting the trend to the test, Freking says to enjoy the process. “If you want to add coconut oil into your routine, have fun with it—but know that’s likely the only [lasting] known benefit. But hey, having fun with daily chores is important.”
And there is evidence to suggest that there could be other, non-whitening benefits to adding coconut oil to your oral care routine. “Swishing with coconut oil, also known as oil pulling, has gained some interest as a substitute for oral rinses and whitening agents," explains Salierno. The reason being is that, when studied, researchers found that coconut oil works well to decrease plaque formation and plaque-induced gingivitis.
Still, there’s no evidence that coconut oil works well as a whitening agent. “Coconut oil is generally safe to use, but the real question is if the effect is worth the effort," says Salierno. "Proponents of oil pulling will recommend swishing for as long as twenty minutes to get a therapeutic effect. While there have been studies that show the oil can remove some bacteria from the mouth, there has been nothing conclusive to show that teeth can get noticeably whiter.”
If you do choose to add coconut oil into your oral care routine, Patterson says to directly pour a tablespoon of the oil into your mouth, as it’s the easiest way to handly the mess-prone ingredient. “Swish the oil around for a few minutes, spit it out, and then brush your teeth as you normally would,” she says.
Speaking of spitting it out, Freking points out that if “you’re on a low-fat diet or have hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol) you may want to take additional care to avoid swallowing any excess oil, as coconut oil is high in saturated fats,” she explains.
Lastly, to ensure that your coconut oil doesn’t cause any unintended effects, Patterson recommends sticking with organic products, such as extra-virgin coconut oil. “It has a pleasant taste and it also has a favorable fatty acid profile, containing high amounts of lauric acid, which contains antimicrobial properties,” she says. “Using pure coconut oil that is not processed is another effective way to make sure there are no unnecessary oils and harmful chemicals.”
The Final Takeaway
Coconut oil has become a buzzy ingredient in the oral care industry, but it simply doesn’t hold up as an effective whitening agent. That said, if you’re more so concerned with embracing a gentle oral care routine, coconut oil is a fine addition if it’s going to make you pay more attention to your teeth.
Shanbhag VKL. Oil pulling for maintaining oral hygiene – A review. J Tradit Complement Med. 2016;7(1):106-109.
Woolley J, Gibbons T, Patel K, Sacco R. The effect of oil pulling with coconut oil to improve dental hygiene and oral health: A systematic review. Heliyon. 2020;6(8):e04789.