Oil pulling. Maybe you don’t know what that is because you don’t scroll through the internet like it’s your job? It sounds like what a dastardly comic book villain would do to hold the world ransom. All the world except for Prius owners; they would be safe.
But really, it is an old (maybe ancient) folk remedy where you swish a spoonful of sesame or coconut oil around in your mouth for a random twenty minutes and then spit it out. According to legend (the internet), your mouth will be healthier and your chances of winning the lottery will increase ten fold, but you won’t care because you’ll be sneezing diamonds.
Okay, maybe not all that, but there are lavish claims about how it pulls the toxins out your body curing everything from dry hair to arthritis to MS.
First: Your gums are not semi-permeable membranes, nothing is getting pulled from your bloodstream through them. Thank goodness.
Second: Toxins just aren’t hanging out in your body. Your kidneys and liver make sure of that. Let’s give them the respect they deserve for all of their hard filtering work. Send them a thank you card or a pajamagram. Nothing says appreciation like a pajamagram.
All jesting aside, there is a connection between oral health and general health that all comes down to bacteria. Periodontal disease has been linked to coronary heart disease and anyone with heart valve issues must take antibiotics before getting dental work. When I was training as an OB/GYN, we were very concerned if our patients had bad teeth because it could be a risk factor for preterm labor.
So a healthy, clean mouth is not just a tag line for chewing gum, it’s important. And get this, oil pulling has been shown to reduce the bacterial count and inflammation in your mouth. The studies were small because, let’s face it, there are bigger fish to fry in terms of research dollars, but oil pulling is a pretty low risk endeavor. There is one study in India that used adolescent boys to compare mouthwash to oil pulling.
Choosing teen boys for a cleanliness study is kind of funny, right?
Anyway, it was found that both the mouthwash and oil pulling groups showed reduced bacterial counts, but the mouthwash group showed significant reduction in twenty-four hours, while the oil pulling group showed reduction after one week.
This is where my Little Scientific Soul trotted out to the barn to get her high horse. Why, WHY, would you oil pull when mouthwash was so much more efficient? It just didn’t make sense. A mouthful of gooey oil or two teaspoons of modern miracle?
And I was all poised to write about the ridiculousness of it all when my Little Scientific Soul paused from saddling up that horse and admonished, “Should you really knock it without trying it?”
I knew I had coconut oil somewhere. It took some serious cabinet diving, but I found it hanging out with the flax seeds and agave syrup gossiping about how I needed to lay off the Cheez-its.
On to the pulling! The general procedure is to take a tablespoon to a teaspoon of the oil and swish for twenty minutes.
I chose one teaspoon and had at it. By the way, you might be picturing this wrong. Coconut oil is a solid at room temperature, with a fluffy consistency and a pleasant aroma. Not drippy or greasy at all.
Here’s the re-enactment:
Swish, swish, swish. This is okay. Swish, swish, swish. Tick, tock, tick, tock. Okay. Swish. Tick, tock. I’m gonna be sick. Spit. Sputter. Wow that was a loooonnng minute.
I made it one minute before I thought I was going to hurl. I thought, “That’s it. Oil pulling sucks.” And then I thought about how much I how to dig around to find the oil, so I checked the jar.
Word to the wise: Coconut oil five years past it’s expiration date might be a little nasty.
I’m a good scientist, if not a good housekeeper, so I tried again with fresh reagents.
With non-rancid oil, the pulling was not so bad. In fact, it was more than borderline pleasant. I tried to return to my usual swishing with Listerine after my oil pulling “experiment” and I couldn’t stand it. It felt like burning acid. And if I’m being honest, I never really used the mouthwash frequently anyway. Maybe because it was like burning acid.
However, there is no magic here. In my (non-extensive) literature search, I found indications that both coconut and sesame oils may have antibacterial/antifungal properties, but I could not find conclusive evidence that they work on the types of bacteria in the mouth. Most of the benefits of pulling probably come from increased attention to oral hygiene, the mechanics of swishing, and the bacteria becoming emulsified and removed.
Things to keep in mind:
- Amount: You REALLY only need a teaspoon. I feel like it’s called pulling because it pulls a TON of saliva into your mouth. After about a minute, it’s really like swishing water, that is, if your oil is not rancid.
- Type: Some people use sesame, some use coconut. Some get worked up over types: refined, unrefined, cold-pressed, or virgin. As I said above, the benefits are probably from the mechanics of it, so pick what tickles your tonsils.
- Time: There is no research saying twenty minutes is best. It’s arbitrary and surprisingly tiring. I do five to ten and call it a successful swish.
- Disposal: Spit it in the trash. Remember coconut oil is a solid at room temperature. Not good for the pipes and weird to explain to the plumber.
- Swallowing: <Insert joke here.> Lots of articles make a big deal about NOT SWALLOWING THE TOXINS. But remember, you’re not drawing out any toxins and your stomach acid is pretty fierce, so if you swallow a little, you’re okay. Really.
So I’m a convert. Cue the choirs and stable my high horse for another day. But I felt unsatisfied. I was ready to roast some quackery! Lucky for you, my internet research threw these Pinterest Pintershizz gems in my path. Soooooo . . .
Oral Atrocities to Ridicule of Instead of Oil Pulling
1. iPhone Case
Maybe this is funny in a quirky sort of way if you’re a dentist or hygienist?? Maybe?? It is definitely a bad call–pun intended and relished–for a funeral director. And does the background of this picture look like a prison?
2. Hair Accessories
Even if you thought the phone case was kind of kitschy, you CANNOT think these are acceptable. Even the tooth fairy couldn’t pull these off unless she was ditching the pixie dust and preparing for her debut on Criminal Minds.
3. Tiny Portraits
These are real teeth. With portraits etched on them. Really. random. portraits.
For those people who are all like, “What am I going to do with a bowl full of tiny teeth portraits? Give me something I can use.”
5. That Which Should Not Be Allowed
For the evangelists amongst us who not only love oil pulling, but want the world to see! Like a washing machine, except totally and horrifically different.
Whew, I feel better now! These photos did what no amount of oil pulling could: flush the judgmental snark out of my system.
So what is your opinion of oil pulling?
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By Ellen Williams Erin Dymowski