I’m not a huge supporter of holistic or Ayurvedic medicine, but sometimes even we skeptics get curious, and that’s why I decided to try oil pulling. Logistically it seems to make sense, but so did bloodletting. You swish oil (sesame, sunflower or coconut) in your mouth for ten minutes a day, which coats your teeth and prevents bacteria from seeping in. That’s what I heard from Gwyneth Paltrow . And then I tried it. Here are five reasons why you could reconsider this ancient practice.
- It tastes awful. I mean that. Lots of medicine tastes awful, which is why Mary Poppins recommended the spoonful of sugar, but most medicines don’t stay in your mouth for 10-20 minutes. I always thought coconut oil smelled good, until I held it in my mouth. My disgust quickly turned into waves of nausea. By the time my ten minutes were up, I was standing over the sink spitting for five minutes. I tried it with sunflower oil the next day. Same thing.
- It could actually be dangerous. If you accidentally inhale the oil, which I almost did, you could get a nasty case of lipid pneumonia. Apparently lungs don’t like being coated with oil, even organic varieties. Be wary.
- No credible studies have ever been done. If you do any research on oil pulling, you may hear proponents insist studies prove it works. No, they haven’t. Very small studies (involving only dozens of people) have been done in India, and studies that small prove nothing. The AMA hasn’t officially weighed in yet, but that’s only because they want to conduct proper studies first. Like real scientists should.
- Underestimating your saliva. The first step in your digestive track isn’t your stomach. It’s actually your saliva, which breaks down food as soon as it enters your mouth. Oil pulling proponents claim the oil coats your teeth so no bacteria can seep into the tiny crevices, but the powerful digestive enzymes in saliva make very short work of that oil.
- Oil pulling experts make ridiculous claims. There have been very few miracle drugs in history, with only penicillin and quinine earning that title. Oil pulling fans often make ridiculous claims about the practice. Not only does it help dental health and whiten your teeth, they insist, but it also cures acne, migraines and even asthma. You can be sure these ridiculous claims wouldn’t stand under a minute of close scrutiny.
If You’re Gullible or Desperate, It Could Work
Just like magnet therapy, most vitamins and most erectile disfunction drugs available over the counter, any positive effects are indirect or simply psychosomatic. As long as you don’t swallow or inhale it (swallowing can cause diarrhea), oil pulling doesn’t hurt you. If you think your teeth are whiter or the oil causes you to pay more attention to your dental health, go for it. You’ll probably brush your teeth more. But understand the positive effect is only in your mind.
National Library of Medicine. “Recurrent lipoid pneumonia associated with oil pulling.” Int J Tuberc Lung Dis. February 16, 2014.
Julie Beck. “Swishing with Oil for Oral Health: Not Recommended.” The Atlantic Monthly. March 19, 2014.