Why is Oil Pulling a Waste of Time?

It simply astounds me how blindly people accept “natural” remedies without any proof except personal testimonials, all while they proclaim that “real science” has been co-opted by greedy individuals and companies. The current fad of “Oil Pulling” is certainly one of the biggest examples of snake oil holistic mumbo-jumbo quackery to grace the surface of our planet.  Why?  Because it’s JUNK, people!  And if there’s one thing that really ticks me off, it’s JUNK MEDICINE and JUNK SCIENCE.

Coconut Oil is Just Fat, People!

That’s it.  Right there.  That’s the reason that oil pulling can not “heal” or reverse cavities, why it can’t whiten your teeth, and why it can’t cure gum disease.  Because IT’S JUST FAT!

When analysed, here’s what’s in coconut oil:

coconut oil pulling is useless because it's just fat

Got that?  It’s mostly saturated fats with a little bit of unsaturated fats and a little bit of other stuff.  If you look at the link above, there’s also a comparison with other types of oils, and the only one with a higher saturated fat content is cottonseed oil.

Now, would someone who believes that coconut oil is a miracle solution for the mouth tell me how all that miracle stuff is done by FAT?  Because fat does not kill bacteria.  It doesn’t harden enamel.  It doesn’t get down under the gums and get rid of tartar (calculus).  So please…explain how it “cures” cavities or gum disease.  I’m waiting, but I won’t hold my breath.

Claims of “Toxins” Being “Pulled Out”

There is no known process by which fats “pull” so-called toxins out of your body, but that’s the claim that gets made.  So why can’t people explain how that’s supposed to happen?  I mean, if you’re going to make that claim, shouldn’t you be able to explain it at least a little bit?  Same about those alleged “toxins” that are supposedly being “pulled out – every time I ask someone exactly which toxins are being pulled out, no one can ever tell me!  So if you don’t know what they are, and you don’t know how it happens, how do you know anything is actually happening?!?!?  (Please pardon all the extra exclamation marks and question marks; I’m trying to express my frustration with this nonsense.)  So all you’re doing for those 20 minutes is swishing FAT around your mouth.

Let’s Look at the Research

Well, actually, Science-Based Medicine already did an article on this, including a look at the research that supposedly supports oil pulling, so here’s the link to Oil Pulling Your Leg.  The basic recap is that the only possible explanation of any minimal effectiveness by oil pulling is that 20 minutes of swishing something thick and viscous will probably help remove loose plaque from your teeth.  Alternately, you can get the same results or better by brushing correctly for 2 minutes, flossing for 1 minutes, and rinsing with chlorhexidine for 1 minute.  Voila!  Just saved you 16 minutes!  You’re welcome.  😀

If It Sounds Too Good to Be True…

We all know this old saying, right? “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”  There’s a lot of good social learning that went into that saying, and it amazes me that, amidst all the glamour of the “old days when people knew things because of experience and not because science said so,” people have forgotten the truth of this saying.  People learned the hard way from snake-oil salesman that there’s really no such thing as a “miracle cure.”  And that’s what modern-day scam artists are selling with coconut oil, or any other kind of oil.  After all, Orac wrote on his blog, Respectful Insolence,  back in 2007 about the nonsense made in the claims made about various oils.  I even wrote about the kinds of claims in my article a few years ago: Holistic, Alternative Medicine is Usually Wrong.

So please……just brush and floss correctly.  Use non-alcohol based mouthrinse, preferably with fluoride.  See your dentist twice a year for checkups and dental hygiene, with dental x-rays taken at appropriate frequencies based on your risk of decay.  And forget about oil pulling, because it’s only fat!

About the Author:

My profession and passion are one and the same: I’ve been a Charlotte dentist since 1999, and if you’re in need of a dental office, we’ll gladly welcome you. We offer most of the most modern technology available and a unique and broad combination of services. We know the dentist isn’t the most fun place to be, but we try to make it the best possible, and since I truly love my job, we aim to offer the best dental care possible.

  • CuriousDentalTroll

    You asked:
    “Same about those alleged “toxins” that are supposedly being “pulled out – every time I ask someone exactly which toxins are being pulled out, no one can ever tell me! ”

    I’ll take a stab.

    Wondering if the “toxins” to which they refer are lipopolysaccharide (LPS) endotoxins shed by gram negative periodontal pathogens.

    In the intestine, saturated fats alter the transport permeability of LPS (analogous to HDL, LDL, chilomicrons, etc. ligand transport of cholesterol either into cell storage or out into the bloodstream).

    Study suggests saturated fats increase LPS (as well as live bacteria) transport across gut epithelial cell membranes whereas non-saturated fats do not. (If I understand correctly). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3577458/

    May it then be conceivable that oral swishing with saturated fat (saliva enzymes liberating the FFAs which can readily cross cell membranes), in turn, then form “lipid rafts” (as described by the authors) composed of fats, LPS, facilitating their removal from the oral cavity (when spit) ?

    In short, can the FFAs (from saturated fats) increase transport of LPS endotoxins that may be within oral mucosal cells out into the spit?

    Just curious.

    • Theoretically, Sue? Maybe. But until someone actually does the research and identifies those “toxins” and a mechanism by which the saturated fats specifically manage to pull those from the relatively small blood vessels in the oral cavity in a large enough quantity to be biologically meaningful……….I don’t buy it.

      • CuriousDentalTroll

        Of course. It was only a theoretical stab in the relative dark. 🙂

  • CuriousDentalTroll

    Is oil swishing a waste of time? Maybe it depends upon where you live.


    • That’s one of the articles discussed more thoroughly in the Science-Based Medicine article, Sue, and I briefly described the basic problems with that study, and the others by the same author, in the article.

      • CuriousDentalTroll

        Thanks I will look more closely.

        • CuriousDentalTroll


          • CuriousDentalTroll

            I just deleted some previous comments because I had not read everything carefully.

            You wrote (summarizing the research):

            “The basic recap is that the only possible explanation of any minimal effectiveness by oil pulling is that 20 minutes of swishing something thick and viscous will probably help remove loose plaque from your teeth.

            Alternately, you can get the same results or better by brushing correctly for 2 minutes, flossing for 1 minutes, and rinsing with chlorhexidine for 1 minute. Voila! Just saved you 16 minutes! You’re welcome. ”

            SO- Basically you are saying that the evidence shows that oil swishing is almost as good or possibly as good as brushing correctly for 2 minutes, flossing for 1 minute, and rinsing with chlorhexidine for 1 minute!

            Seems you are contradicting your claim that oil swishing is a waste of time.

            What if you don’t have access to a toothbrush, floss, chlorhexidine, or even potable water in your house…but you have coconut oil.

            Still a waste of time?

            That was the point I was trying to make about (maybe it depends upon where you live).

            • In the sense that you can save 16 minutes (given that most articles about oil pulling that I’ve seen recommend 20 minutes) each time yet achieve equal results….yes, oil pulling is a waste of time.

              OK, again if you want to bring up the hypothetical of “people not having access to toothbrushes, floss, or mouthrinse of any kind,” sure. Given that lots of those people probably don’t have Internet access and probably aren’t reading articles about oil pulling, are they a relevant audience? No, not really. Am I writing to them? No, not really.

              Sue, if you’re going to nit-pick every hypothetical, possible, maybe, could be, might, etc. scenario, of course, one will find times oil pulling “might not be a waste of time.” But for god’s sake, cut out the nitpicking. I’m not interested in arguing every conceivable scenario, so stop already.

              • CuriousDentalTroll

                OK. Sorry. You may call it nitpicking, but I am actually focusing on the the larger picture Chip. Respectfully, Sue

                • CuriousDentalTroll

                  By the way, the time savings would equate to 19 minutes, not 16.

                  • True, if you’re only comparing 1 minute of Peridex vs. 20 minutes of oil pulling. However, if one brushes properly for 2 minutes, flosses for approximately 1 minute, and swishes with mouthrinse for 1 minute, then it’s 16 minutes.

                    • CuriousDentalTroll

                      My comment is based upon the study that compared brushing, flossing, chlorhexidine (~4 minute regimen) to brushing, flossing, oil pulling (~23 minute regimen). There was no study discussed by SBM that compared Oil pulling (alone) to brushing, flossing, chlorhexidine. Oil pulling (as advertised by SOME dentists on the internet) has never been recommended to replace brushing and flossing (as far as I can tell, anyway). The question I would ask is whether chlorhexidine provided any further benefits to simply brushing and flossing in the small referenced study. It seems that the potential benefits of using mouthwash (following brushing & flossing) are a bit controversial among the dental profession. Although the ADA endorses some of these oral rinses, many dentists conclude these really don’t do much. I can post references if you wish. By the way, clinical study of Peridex (the prescription mouthwash containing chlorhexidine gluconate) demonstrated increased calculus in the test group (Peridex), but a reduction in plaque (as compared to the control group). Why would this be, do you think? Thank you.

                    • Ok thank you for clarifying what exactly was being compared, and in that case, you’re quite correct.

                      When it comes to mouthwash, I also agree that the benefits are somewhat minimal, but as with most oral hygiene habits, my opinion (key point, I’m not claiming to have evidence, this is only my anecdotal opinion) is that most people just don’t rinse long enough. When they do, they swish for 10 seconds, maybe 15 seconds max, and that’s just not much. If one is going to use a rinse, it needs a full minute of vigorous swishing.

                      As for Peridex, I have no idea why it might increase calculus but reduce plaque. That seems counter-intuitive. What I do know is that patients hate the taste and the way it stains their teeth really brown, so they won’t use it very long.

  • CuriousDentalTroll

    *For best results prep teeth prior to swishing:
    1. Floss between teeth with a shred resistant fiber (such as dental floss).
    2. Brush teeth using a soft bristle brush and powder or paste (such as dental powder or paste) for two full minutes.

    • So basically, if you’re already flossing and brushing correctly…..the oil pulling isn’t doing anything anyway.

      • CuriousDentalTroll

        That was a joke, Chip. I cannot say either way.

        • CuriousDentalTroll

          Basically, the research does not prove that the oil swishing does nothing. It does not support the extravagant claims of healing either.

          • CuriousDentalTroll
            • I think you’re still missing the bigger point, and I’m getting really tired of this. That review still suffers from the same problems as the studies it summaries – a total of 160 frigging patients.

              Now, either you stop with the nit-picking/trying to prove a point that really has already been addressed, or your comments start disappearing.

          • CuriousDentalTroll

            ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – Effect of oil pulling in promoting oro dental hygiene: A systematic review of randomized clinical trials. – PubMed – NCBI

          • CuriousDentalTroll

            To be honest Chip, based upon the the collective information garnered through SBM, Pubmed, your blog, and our discussion I’d be asking myself… Is Peridex a waste of time? (if my dentist prescribed it for my gingival health).

            Are the risks worth the potential benefits? How well does it really work?

            I mean if swishing with saturated fat or oil provides similar outcomes, it begs the question how well does Peridex really work?

  • Love it, cut the fat from your daily dental hygiene regimen. So many dentists (we’re guilty too in our blog post on the subject) treat the subject as “if it makes you pay more attention to oral health, then swish away” approach. Good to hear when BS gets called such.