The Risks of Oil Pulling

The Risks of Oil Pulling
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Oil pulling may help with tooth sensitivity, but the risk of inducing lipoid pneumonia outweighs the benefits.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

So far, we learned that oil pulling may be no more effective than swishing with water for plaque and gingivitis, doesn’t whiten your teeth, and may even make dental erosion worse.

What about oil pulling as a treatment for tooth sensitivity? About a quarter of people have sensitive teeth—like experiencing aching sensations when drinking ice water. So, researchers split people up into three groups: oil pulling vs. a desensitizing toothpaste vs. placebo (just rinsing with salt water), and then they blasted people’s teeth with cold air. The placebo didn’t help much; the before-and-after sensitivity scores were the same for nine out of the ten in the placebo group. But, the desensitizing toothpaste seemed to help in most of the patients, and so did the oil pulling. Okay, so, there is some benefit to oil pulling. If you have sensitive teeth, why not give it a try? Unless, of course, there’s some downside—some risks associated with oil pulling.

Typically, the only concerns you see expressed are for clogging your sink drain or something. But, the reason it’s warned against in young children is fear of “aspiration”—that you might accidentally choke on it, and some oil may go down the wrong pipe into your lungs. And, this could potentially happen at any age. But, is that just a theoretical concern? No, there are cases of “lipoid pneumonia [attributed to] oil pulling”—which is when you get an oily substance stuck down in your lungs.

First described back in 1925, when it was customary to use like mentholated Vaseline in the nostrils of kids—until they died of pneumonia. And, on autopsy, areas of their lungs were clogged with oily fluid. Glad we don’t use mentholated Vaseline any more. But we do—that’s what Vicks VapoRub® is. And, if you stick it in your nostrils, you can end up filling up part of your lung with it. That’s why you should never put Vaseline in your nose before bedtime; it “lique[fies] at body temperature,” and creeps down into your lungs as you sleep. And so, people “need to be aware.” I did my part by posting a video about it ages ago, but it’s not just Vaseline—anything oily or greasy can do it. You can give your kid pneumonia with “intranasal butter application”—evidently a folk remedy for a stuffy nose, which can end you up with a stuffy lung.

Same thing with olive oil. Or, this poor woman, who thought it was a good idea to put baby oil in her nose, because her nostrils were dry. Not a good idea. Less common causes include inhaling too much “vaporized” candle wax, because you “spen[d] most of [your] time in a shrine [surrounded by] burning candles.” Lipoid pneumonia isn’t nicknamed “fire-eater’s lung” for nothing, as performers place themselves at risk for aspirating that tiki torch oil in their act.

A thankfully really uncommon cause is self-injection with oil. Why would anyone do that? “[T]o increase the size of [their] genitals,” of course—until they accidentally hit a vein, and squirt oil into their bloodstream.

But, this is what concerns me more. Cases like this poor woman: four admissions to the hospital with pneumonia within just six months. During her fourth admission, her doctors “meticulously inquired about every possible cause of her recurrent pneumonia, and she revealed that she had [started] oil pulling 2 weeks [before] her first admission.” And then, when she was discharged from the hospital, she did it even more to try to “detoxify” from all the drugs they had given her, which led to three more hospital admissions. They told her to stop the oil pulling. And, no more pneumonia.

That’s one of the reasons the American Dental Association recommends against the practice. In fact, remember that tooth-whitening experiment? There’s a reason they used extracted teeth, instead of just having people do it. They didn’t think it would be ethical “to conduct a human trial” of oil pulling “with the knowledge that there was a chance of inducing lipoid pneumonia in study volunteers.”

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image credit: Kristina DeMuth. Image has been modified.

Motion graphics by Avocado Video

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

So far, we learned that oil pulling may be no more effective than swishing with water for plaque and gingivitis, doesn’t whiten your teeth, and may even make dental erosion worse.

What about oil pulling as a treatment for tooth sensitivity? About a quarter of people have sensitive teeth—like experiencing aching sensations when drinking ice water. So, researchers split people up into three groups: oil pulling vs. a desensitizing toothpaste vs. placebo (just rinsing with salt water), and then they blasted people’s teeth with cold air. The placebo didn’t help much; the before-and-after sensitivity scores were the same for nine out of the ten in the placebo group. But, the desensitizing toothpaste seemed to help in most of the patients, and so did the oil pulling. Okay, so, there is some benefit to oil pulling. If you have sensitive teeth, why not give it a try? Unless, of course, there’s some downside—some risks associated with oil pulling.

Typically, the only concerns you see expressed are for clogging your sink drain or something. But, the reason it’s warned against in young children is fear of “aspiration”—that you might accidentally choke on it, and some oil may go down the wrong pipe into your lungs. And, this could potentially happen at any age. But, is that just a theoretical concern? No, there are cases of “lipoid pneumonia [attributed to] oil pulling”—which is when you get an oily substance stuck down in your lungs.

First described back in 1925, when it was customary to use like mentholated Vaseline in the nostrils of kids—until they died of pneumonia. And, on autopsy, areas of their lungs were clogged with oily fluid. Glad we don’t use mentholated Vaseline any more. But we do—that’s what Vicks VapoRub® is. And, if you stick it in your nostrils, you can end up filling up part of your lung with it. That’s why you should never put Vaseline in your nose before bedtime; it “lique[fies] at body temperature,” and creeps down into your lungs as you sleep. And so, people “need to be aware.” I did my part by posting a video about it ages ago, but it’s not just Vaseline—anything oily or greasy can do it. You can give your kid pneumonia with “intranasal butter application”—evidently a folk remedy for a stuffy nose, which can end you up with a stuffy lung.

Same thing with olive oil. Or, this poor woman, who thought it was a good idea to put baby oil in her nose, because her nostrils were dry. Not a good idea. Less common causes include inhaling too much “vaporized” candle wax, because you “spen[d] most of [your] time in a shrine [surrounded by] burning candles.” Lipoid pneumonia isn’t nicknamed “fire-eater’s lung” for nothing, as performers place themselves at risk for aspirating that tiki torch oil in their act.

A thankfully really uncommon cause is self-injection with oil. Why would anyone do that? “[T]o increase the size of [their] genitals,” of course—until they accidentally hit a vein, and squirt oil into their bloodstream.

But, this is what concerns me more. Cases like this poor woman: four admissions to the hospital with pneumonia within just six months. During her fourth admission, her doctors “meticulously inquired about every possible cause of her recurrent pneumonia, and she revealed that she had [started] oil pulling 2 weeks [before] her first admission.” And then, when she was discharged from the hospital, she did it even more to try to “detoxify” from all the drugs they had given her, which led to three more hospital admissions. They told her to stop the oil pulling. And, no more pneumonia.

That’s one of the reasons the American Dental Association recommends against the practice. In fact, remember that tooth-whitening experiment? There’s a reason they used extracted teeth, instead of just having people do it. They didn’t think it would be ethical “to conduct a human trial” of oil pulling “with the knowledge that there was a chance of inducing lipoid pneumonia in study volunteers.”

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image credit: Kristina DeMuth. Image has been modified.

Motion graphics by Avocado Video

Doctor's Note

This is the final video in this series on oil pulling. For the first three, see:

 

Speaking of toothpaste, have you ever wondered about that ingredient SLS? Check out my recent videos Is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate Safe? and Is CABP in SLS-Free Toothpaste Any Better?.

For more on dental health, see:

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