Does Coconut Oil Really Whiten Teeth?

Written & Reviewed by Dr David Chen

Unfortunately coconut oil is unable to whiten teeth because it can’t mechanically remove extrinsic stains nor can it chemically oxidize intrinsic ones.

coconut oil

The entire premise around how teeth become yellow is that they accumulate a combination of extrinsic and intrinsic stains. Consequently in order for you to make your teeth whiter you must reverse the process by removing those stains.

According to the American Dental Association (ADA), the extrinsic stains can be removed mechanically such as with brushing your teeth. The intrinsic stains requires a whitening agent that can chemically oxidize them. The only material that can oxidize the stains would be hydrogen peroxide or a derivative of it.

It doesn’t seem like coconut oil pulling would be able to do either of those which means it cannot make your teeth whiter. We will explore further as to why that is the case and also everything that you need to know about coconut oil pulling.

Where did the idea come from?

Coconut oil pulling is an ancient Ayurvedic practice that has recently resurfaced and has been trending on the internet. It allegedly has an entire list of oral health benefits.

  • Prevents cavities
  • Improves oral hygiene
  • Decreases oral microbial count
  • Inhibits adhesion of plaque to teeth
  • Reduces gingivitis
  • Reduces bad breath
  • Strengthens jaw muscles
  • Whitens teeth
  • Improves general health

Coconut oil seems amazing from that list alone but what we’ll focus on today is the teeth whitening aspect of it. Plenty of individuals have tried pulling with coconut oil and have made claims that it does indeed whiten your teeth. Even an editor from Glamour, a prominent magazine in Britain said that her teeth appeared whiter after three days of doing it.

In addition to that there have been plenty of youtubers who have made the same claims. Although to be quite honest, we don’t really notice any whitening at all in the video below…

Unfortunately none of these were backed by scientific research studies. They were all claims based on “subjective” improvements of having whiter teeth. That is in contrast to studies which use a colorimeter to measure and quantify the change in color.

Without further ado, we’ll explain why it is physically impossible for coconut oil pulling to even whiten your teeth.

Coconut oil cannot mechanically remove extrinsic stains

According to a peer reviewed study in the Journal of Evidence Based Dental Practice extrinsic stains can be effectively removed via mechanical means. In other words, you can get rid of them by simply brushing your teeth with a mild abrasive. That is basically how the vast majority of whitening toothpastes work.

Unfortunately, coconut oil is not a toothpaste nor does it contain abrasives. That means it does not have the qualities to make it an effective extrinsic stain remover.

arm and hammer advanced white toothpaste

It is not a toothpaste so you don’t brush with it

The most obvious fact is that coconut oil is most commonly used as a mouth rinse and not a toothpaste. The primary method to utilize it is with a technique called “oil pulling”.

How to do coconut oil pulling:

  1. Scoop one tablespoon of coconut oil.
  2. Swish it around your mouth for 15-20 minutes.
  3. Spit it back out and do not swallow.

You can call it however you want but from a factual observational standpoint, it is basically a mouthwash that you rinse with for an extended period of time. Traditionally with something like Listerine, you only rinse for about 30-60 seconds total. Oil pulling has you rinsing for up to 20 minutes!

Listerine cool mint - zero alcohol

We quite impressed by that level of dedication because we can barely get our patients to brush for two minutes once a day…

Anyway, we digress. The removal of extrinsic stains requires you to brush with it. The brushing from your toothbrush is what helps you get rid of the stains via mechanical abrasion. Since you’re just swishing around the oil, you’re not really removing any of the stains at all.

Coconut oil doesn’t contain abrasives

What separates “whitening toothpastes” from normal toothpastes is that they contain a higher quantity of abrasives. It is due to the abrasives that permits them to so effectively abrade away extrinsic stains.

Unfortunately, coconut oil is not abrasive at all because it doesn’t contain any! The oil is actually on the opposite side of the abrasive spectrum because it is smooth. So smooth that it is used as a moisturizer to bring life back to dry skin.

pura dor coconut oil moisturizer

The point that we’re trying to make is that it is anything BUT abrasive.

What abrasives do whitening toothpastes uses to whiten teeth?

According to a study in the Journal of Dentistry, what allows toothpastes to whiten is the fact that they contain abrasives. Different brands will use different abrasives.

ToothpasteWhitening AbrasiveRelative Dentin Abrasivity (RDA)
Colgate TotalHydrated silicon dioxide44
Oral B, SensodyneHydrated silica65
Tom’sCalcium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate, hydrated silica49

Coconut oil is all natural so it doesn’t contain anything but the oil itself. That means it lacks an abrasive, which is what makes whitening toothpastes effective at mechanically abrading away extrinsic stains.

In fact, just about every toothpaste on the market has some level of abrasiveness. Here is a chart with a lot of commonly used toothpastes and their RDA. You most likely recognize a lot of the names and the one that you’re using on a daily basis is probably on there too.

Toothpaste RDA chart

As a fun fact, this is also the reason why fluoride doesn’t whiten teeth. The exact same concept applies to coconut oil.

Coconut oil can’t chemically oxidize intrinsic stains

Aside from extrinsic stains, teeth can also become yellow from accumulating intrinsic stains. This second type of stain can only be removed chemically by oxidizing them. Currently, the only substance that can effectively oxidize stains is hydrogen peroxide or a derivative of it.

Unfortunately, coconut oil does NOT contain any hydrogen peroxide since it is all natural and consist of pure oil. That means it will be ineffective at removing intrinsic stains since it lacks the ability to oxidize them.

How does hydrogen peroxide whiten teeth?

Peroxide has the ability to diffuse through the tooth while oxidizing all of the intrinsic stains that are embedded within the organic matrices. It is so potent that it even penetrates it’s way to the pulp of the tooth after just 15 minutes of contact. That is basically how hydrogen peroxide whitens teeth.

The method to remove extrinsic stains is by mechanically abrading away the stains that on the exterior of the enamel. The intrinsic stains are embedded within the tooth so mechanical means are unable to reach them, thus unable to remove them. This is why these type of stains require a chemical reaction to get rid of them.

Opalesence Go

The importance of hydrogen peroxide in teeth whitening can be readily observed in all of the whitening products that are on the market. OTC whitening products will list varying concentrations of hydrogen peroxide in order to tell you how potent of a whitening you can expect.

As an example you can take a look at the Opalesence Go, which comes in two concentrations:

  • Available in 10% hydrogen peroxide which you wear for 30-60 minutes for 5-10 days.
  • Available in 15% hydrogen peroxide which you wear for 15-20 minutes for 5-10 days.

Basically the one with more peroxide will require less treatment time because it is more potent and effective. The implication is that the amount of peroxide directly influences how well it can whiten.

Since coconut oil have no peroxide at all, it will not oxidize intrinsic stains and that means it will not make your teeth whiter.

Research that disproves oil pulling whitening claims

We tried to persuade you by explaining the foundational concepts for teeth whitening. In case that was insufficient for you, there are plenty of scientific studies which show that coconut oil does not whiten teeth.

According to a study done at The University of Detroit Mercy School of Dentistry, oil pulling had no effect on the whitening of teeth. They tested oil pulling with coconut oil, sesame oil, and sunflower oil to see if it had a whitening effect. Unfortunately, none of them produced whiter teeth.

In contrast to the oils, the teeth which were subjected to hydrogen peroxide experienced an average of four shades whiter. That makes products with peroxide significantly more effective at whitening teeth than those without.

VITA classical shade guide

The photo above is of a commonly used tooth shade guide in dental offices around the world. The lighter shades have a lower number while the darker ones have a higher number. For example, A1 is 4 shades lighter than A4.

The study above found that teeth whitened by up to four shades with hydrogen peroxide. If you compare that to the shade guide, it is a pretty significant difference. Now if you compare that to the youtube video’s result at the beginning of the article, there is simply no competition.

Better ways to whiten your teeth

Unfortunately if you were looking for a way to whiten your teeth, coconut oil shouldn’t be your top choice. It is ineffective at mechanically removing extrinsic stains as well as chemically oxidizing intrinsic ones.

Instead of oil pulling you should look at other whitening products that have been proven to be effective.

  • Whitening toothpastes
  • Whitening strips with or without the LED light
  • Pre-fabricated trays with or without the LED light
  • Whitening pen
  • Custom made trays by your dentist
  • In-office treatment at the dentist

Overall, all of these products should work and are definitely more effective than pulling with oil. The reason is that they should all contain some amount of hydrogen peroxide. Nowadays a lot of the whitening toothpastes even contain peroxide. The most prominent one would be the Colgate Optic White toothpaste, which can have up to 5% hydrogen peroxide.

colgate optic white pro series toothpaste

We are very confident that you can get a much better result with one of the above methods instead of doing coconut oil pulling.

If cost is a concern, we would recommend starting with one of the OTC products first. Those tend to be less expensive than the professional whitening options by your dentist.

The Verdict – does coconut oil make your teeth whiter?

Based on the abundance of scientific studies that are present, it would be a resounding no that coconut oil can whiten your teeth. It just doesn’t logically make sense because it does not possess the qualities of a tooth whitener to begin with.

In essence teeth become yellow due to accumulating extrinsic and intrinsic stains over time. If you want to reverse the process and make them less yellow and become whiter, you must remove those stains. The extrinsic ones can be mechanically abraded away while the intrinsic ones require chemical oxidation.

Since coconut oil is a mouth rinse and not a toothpaste, you can’t use it to brush away extrinsic stains. It also does not contain any hydrogen peroxide which is the only substance that can oxidize intrinsic stains. The end result is that it will be ineffective at removing either stains and thus cannot whiten your teeth.

If you wanted whiter teeth you should look into products that either contain an abrasive or hydrogen peroxide. Last but not least make sure the toothpaste is fluoridated so it can also prevent cavities while you whiten.


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