Having sparkly white teeth instantly brightens a smile, promotes a youthful look, and instills confidence in those that have them. Reasons like these help to explain why cosmetic teeth whitening is such a massive industry—a $3.2 billion global industry (as of 2017), to be exact. However, studies have shown that over-the-counter teeth bleaching products can increase gingival irritation and inflammation.

By contrast, the Ayurvedic practice of oil pulling not only freshens the breath and even whitens teeth—it also provides a host of health benefits, including the reduction of plaque and gingivitis, prevents bad breath and the combating of systemic diseases. All you have to do is gently swish one tablespoon of oil—coconut oil and sesame oil are good options—around all areas of your mouth for 15 to 20 minutes before spitting the oil into a trash can and rinsing your mouth with water.

How can such a simple practice have such wide-reaching and beneficial effects? In Ayurveda, the mouth is viewed as a telling reflection of the body’s health. Since the mouth is a site that harbors bacteria, toxins, and other impurities, our oral hygiene is closely linked to our overall health. As various studies demonstrate, the practice of oil pulling generates antioxidants that pull the lipid layers of bacterial cell membranes into the oil and block bacterial growth and plaque formation. As a result, the toxins and impurities in our mouths—or ama—can be removed from the body once the oil is spit out. In Ayurvedic tradition, oil pulling is carried out in the morning before brushing the teeth.