If you spend any time on Facebook, you’ve probably seen articles on oil pulling. The “ancient” practice involves swishing coconut or sesame oil in your mouth and through your teeth to increase your oral health. Not only is it claimed to be better than conventional oral hygiene, but many also claim numerous other benefits.
“…oil pulling is usually recommended for treating mouth-based conditions such as halitosis, gingivitis or oral plaque, it actually benefits the entire body. Long-term oil pulling has, for instance, also been linked to healthier hair, clearer skin, whiter teeth, elimination of parasites, improved body odor and the easing of joint pains. It is, in short, a full-body cleanse, and anyone with $5 to spare on good-quality oil can reap its benefits.”
So, should you use this technique for better health? Here are three reasons you should skip oil pulling.
- It doesn’t do what they claim it does: One of my pet peeves is when alternative medicine proponents claim that a certain treatment can detoxify the body. If a treatment is meant to remove toxins, I think it’s important to specify what toxins are being removed. This is where much alternative medicine loses credibility. They convince otherwise healthy people that the environment around them is slowly poisoning them with toxins, but they don’t specify what toxins. In most cases, they don’t even use the term toxin correctly. A toxin is “…is a poisonous substance produced within living cells or organisms; synthetic substances created by artificial processes are thus excluded.” Simply stated, a toxin is a biologically produced poison. Sometimes they’ll mention “heavy metals” or “chemicals.” Typically they insinuate that modern industry and technology is to blame for these toxins in our environment, but rarely do they get more specific than that. But let’s be honest, if you really needed toxins removed from your body wouldn’t you want to know exactly what toxins you have, how they got there and how a doctor is going to get them out? Rinsing your mouth with oil doesn’t remove toxins. At the most, the swishing action might mechanically remove some dental plaque. There is some research that is suggestive that oil pulling can have an effect on bad breath and bacteria that cause tooth decay. However, the research is done on extremely small sample sizes with questionable experimental design. If there is an effect, it is likely from the mechanical effect of swishing the oil. Other liquids would likely have a similar effect. If coconut oil or sesame oil are good, wouldn’t a nice 5w30 motor oil be even better?
- If it did work, it takes too long: Almost all of the proponents of oil pulling suggest 20 minutes of swishing oil around the mouth is required for the benefit. They’re actually quite specific about the 20 minutes…no more or no less. I don’t know about you, but 20 minutes is a long time to add to my normal routine. Brushing shouldn’t take more than 2 minutes. If you’re going to floss, there’s another two. If you choose to pass on oil pulling, I just saved you 16 minutes per day! And proper brushing and flossing is clearly more effective at cleaning your teeth and gums than swishing oil around. It’s true that I don’t make any claims of detoxifying your body with regular brushing and flossing, but oil pulling doesn’t really do that anyhow. No harm, no foul.
- It isn’t risk free: Maybe you still aren’t convinced. You’re thinking, “sure, brushing and flossing is better and I might not be detoxifying my body, but what harm can it do?” There’s this thing called lipoid pneumonia. It’s a special kind of pneumonia that only occurs when someone inhales small amounts of aerosolized oil. Kind of like when you’re swishing coconut oil around in your mouth for 20 minutes at a time. Am I saying that oil pulling will give you lipoid pneumonia? Yes. Yes I am. O.K., I’m not really. I’m just saying that there is a risk of side effects that many alternative medicine proponents fail to mention.
Oil pulling is just the latest in a long line of natural cures being offered by proponents of alternative medicine. Medicine and dentistry can be scary. Searching the internet for information about health makes sense. However, the internet has no filters for information. In many cases, bad and incorrect information is easier to find than accurate information about health. Remember what Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, once said:
“We are still in the very beginnings of the internet. Let’s use it wisely.”
Critical thinking techniques are vital to finding health information on the internet. The best bet is to have a relationship to a trusted dentist and physician. Ask them questions! Answering your health concerns is what they should do best!
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