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Just what is oil pulling therapy?

by Lory Laughter, RDH, BS
momylaugh@aol.com

After more than 16 years of practice and countless hours on the computer, I pride myself on being current with most dental topics. Google, PubMed, Bing, and Yahoo are often open on my computer at the same time for faster and more complete browsing and searching. Even with all this, oil pulling therapy took me by surprise.

A former patient came by the office with an article about oil pulling therapy. She said it was the reason she had discontinued her dental appointments, and she raved about its health promoting attributes. She explained how the oil pulls toxins out of the body, thereby curing most health ailments. She then left me an article, which I briefly glanced at and immediately filed in my cluttered locker.

Recently, two patients came to their hygiene appointment saying the newfound therapy of oil pulling has made the toothbrush obsolete. They explained that since the bodily toxins are removed and expectorated, there is no need to scrub anything from the teeth. I admit both patients had nice looking and even shiny gingiva – with increased probing depths, bleeding upon touching, and sensitivity to ultrasonic or hand instrumentation. I needed to research oil pulling so I could guide them regarding therapy.

According to Dr. Karach (degree not given) on www.oilpulling.com, the therapy heals "headaches, bronchitis, tooth pain, thrombosis, eczema, ulcers, and diseases of the stomach, intestines, heart, blood, kidney, liver, lungs, and women's diseases. It heals diseases of nerves, paralysis, and encephalitis. It prevents the growth of malignant tumors, cuts and heals them. Chronic sleeplessness is cured." These are bold claims without a single scientific source to back them up.

The site recommends sunflower or sesame oil for the therapy, and cautions often not to swallow the oil once pulling begins because it is poisonous to the body. The site claims to have thoroughly documented research on the therapy, but no sources are given. Failure to reveal sources or only giving abstracts as conclusions should raise a red flag to those seeking scientific answers.

During my search for answers I found PubMed. (pubmed.com) By not setting any limits to the oil pulling therapy search, three sources related to dentistry came up. The two accessible articles supported oil pulling as a way to decrease microorganisms, specifically Streptococcus mutans, in the study groups. Both studies compared oil pulling therapy to chlorhexidine mouthwash, and though the conclusions did not state this, the chlorhexidine group displayed a reduction much sooner than the oil group. From this limited information, one could support oil pulling therapy in much the same manner as rinsing with chlorhexidine and expect similar results in s. mutans reduction after one to two weeks.

I searched several social sites for dentistry for more information on oil pulling, with no success. If it is being discussed, it is in venues I cannot access. The sites outside of dentistry or medicine that support oil pulling as a stand-alone therapy rely strictly on the use of "Dr." as a title and for testimonials. Not one credible source was found to support the idea that oil pulling negates the need for brushing.

This search brought a couple of needs to mind. First, as health-care providers we need to know where to direct our patients for scientific evidence-based information about oral care. Companies who manufacture and promote oral care items such as Colgate, Sunstar America (GUM Brand), Philips Sonicare, and Oral-B all have Web site space dedicated to patient education. In fact, if you enter your favorite toothbrush brand in a search, chances are the company has a patient education section. While there is the motive to sell products, these sites are evidence-based and list valid resources for information.

Secondly, as a profession we need to be studying and discussing alternative topics often and in greater depth. My oil pulling research is not over, by any means, but finding concise scientific sources is proving difficult. This is a topic I would enjoy seeing on the blogs, forums, and e-mail groups. Alternative medicine and dentistry is here to stay; let's open the dialogue and get involved.

Lory Laughter, RDH, BS, practices clinically in Napa, Calif. She is owner of Dental IQ, a business responsible for the Annual Napa Dental Experience. Lory combines her love for travel with speaking nationally on a variety of topic. 

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