There is no problem with Catholics employing oil-pulling as a way to improve their dental health. Although it is part of the Ayurvedic medical system, which originated in the Vedic culture of India thousands of years ago, oil-pulling has no religious connotations.
For those who have never heard of this practice, it involves placing a tablespoon of coconut or soybean oil in your mouth and swishing it around for 10-20 minutes. Proponents say it improves gum health, removes plagues, brightens teeth and even tightens up loose teeth. It’s called “pulling” because many also believe it removes toxins from the body through the oral cavity.
The problem is that none of these claims has ever been proven in a laboratory. The only studies that found oil-pulling to be advantageous to dental health are those published in Indian journals, which further claim that the esoteric process can only be achieved with a select few kinds of dental supplies. And these mostly involved very small sample sizes which made them little more than case studies.
“From a public health point of view, we certainly do not want to encourage people to use things that, while they may be harmless, we have no evidence that they work,” said Robert J. Collins, a clinical professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine Collins in this article appearing in The Atlantic in 2014. “It’s kind of like chiropractic. If somebody feels that they can go to the chiropractor, get a back adjustment, and it makes them feel better, I’m okay with that. If people start selling chiropractic as a mechanism to cure cancer then I have a problem with that.”
Proponents of oil-pulling have been known to go almost that far in their claims and believe it can be used to cure problems such as chronic throat infections, migraines, lung and sinus problems.
“There’s a mysterious aspect of it,” said this Ayurvedic practitioner, Sara Carson. “But through thousands of years of practice, it does work. We can surmise that the oil pulls toxins out of tissues and activates the salivary glands. When you put the oil in your mouth, you start salivating. That may be part of it – the salivary glands rush in and are activated, and oil grabs on to that saliva. And the other way is that the oil has nourishing and healing properties, so just holding it in the oral cavity allows it to absorb into the tissues and carry the healing properties of the oil into the tissues.”
As you can see, this is mostly speculation and perhaps wishful thinking on the part of people who have a vested interested in pushing Ayurvedic care.
But the science just isn’t there.
For this reason, the American Dental Association is not recommending oil-pulling as a supplement to traditional dental hygiene which consists of twice a day brushing with a fluoride toothpaste and flossing between teeth every day. This is not only because oil-pulling has no science to support it, but because there have been reports of lipoid pneumonia (a type of lung inflammation caused by the inhalation of lipoids) In addition, cases of diarrhea or upset stomach have also been reported as a result of this practice. It is also very unhealthy to swallow the oil after swishing, which could happen accidentally.