Oil Pulling? I Have No Idea.

I like to stay ahead of the curve.  So when I hear about a procedure or a product that is new, I’m not likely to put it down. I get curious, knowing that some new things can be good. Most every doctor has some level of interest in something new.  But we all look to see if the risks are worth the rewards and then make our recommendations accordingly.

But when we doctors are not sure what to say to a patient who has read an article or seen a news story that is the “latest thing,” we all do the same thing.  We go to the dental or medical literature.  The website that we go to is a National Library of Medicine website called Pubmed.gov.  There we find abstracts of every article published in medical journals. We can see what’s been written about the procedure or product. It’s where we get some objectivity, as we can see how monitored trials using that procedure or product came out.  Often, these trials are done using controls, so we can see data that compares the experimental group and the control group.  You can go there too.

So when my patient, Bob, who has been a loyal patient and friend for many years, sent me an article on the internet on “oil pulling,” I was intrigued. I had heard about oil pulling from another patient a couple of years ago. She had tried it for her periodontal disease and it hadn’t worked and decided to see me.  Oil pulling has been part of Ayurvedic medicine for years.  That’s likely a good thing.

Now, all I hear is “oil pulling.”  It was on TV this weekend, it’s all over the internet, it is the latest thing, even though it was proposed thousands of years ago in India! I hear a doctor talking about how swishing coconut oil in the mouth will not only improve oral health, it will help general health. He say that it will remove dental abscesses, and I’m sitting there stunned, because it makes no sense to me.

I look on Pubmed.gov.  I see nearly nothing about oil pulling and dental disease, but a couple of articles at least show that oil will emulsify if left in the mouth for 20 minutes and  that there is at least a mild antibacterial effect as good as chlorhexidine  when studied in the laboratory.  So at least there is some literature, but chlorhexidine won’t treat abscesses.  .

So what’s my next step? I bought some coconut oil and swished it around my mouth for 20 minutes.  I didn’t feel that I had to swallow. It tasted pretty good too. So I’m buying the book, will read it on vacation, just to see what the guy says.  And I’ll likely tell my most periodontally-resistant patients about oil pulling, that it’s likely harmless, and see what happens.  I’ll get back to you.

Lee N. Sheldon, DMD