Columns and Letters

Comment: Oral hygiene: there’s toothpaste and flossing and now there’s coconut oil pulling

-by Frank Macdonald

In a country where the federal government is doing all it can to dismantle Canada’s public health care system, a person would be wise to try to stay as healthy as possible to keep his life savings from becoming the profits of for-profit health service providers. Oh, it’s happening, folk, the Harper government’s subtle undermining of public health care in this country. The pending damage may not be evident yet, but like fracking for gas and oil, the fissures are spidering just below the surface. The sinkholes and poisoned waters will become evident later, perhaps too much later.

For this reason I’ve been considering, among my efforts to stay unprofitably healthy, a health practice called coconut oil pulling. It’s a new term and practice to me, but apparently it’s been around for generations, for 2000 years worth of generations in India. It’s a form of detoxifying one’s mouth, according to accounts I’ve read. 

“Detoxifying” is a word that has cultural connotations here in Cape Breton, usually associated with sending some family member to places like the former Little Flower of similar  detox centre to get dried out, a term that makes the process seem like a dry-cleaning service for alcoholics.

But I digress. 

Coconut oil pulling (or other vegetable oils) isn’t actually pulling. (Pulling seems to be a new fad food word lately. Never heard of pulled pork until it recently became the pet food on restaurant menus.) With coconut oil pulling, what one does is swish a mouthful of coconut oil inside one’s mouth for twenty minutes once a day.

That’s the first reason I’ve found for not starting this oral hygiene strategy the moment I read about it. Twenty minutes! Twenty minutes is a long time. When those breathing apparatuses known as your nasal passages have sinus problems of their own, the swishing of something in your mouth for twenty minutes can be a long, long time. A very, very long time. A long enough time for a guy to asphyxiate himself, perhaps. 

Still, some of the rationale behind coconut oil pulling makes sense. By swishing coconut oil in your mouth for so long, it works not unlike an industrial oil spill that fills up with dead fish and soon-to-be-dead ducks and seagulls. What the oil swishing does is trap bacteria in the oil the same way we saw in newscasts from the Gulf of Mexico. When the oil was spit out one dentistry assistant professor measured the results over a three week period. She measured their bacterial and fungal loads before and after the study and found them astounding. 

“Not only did they find their mouths felt a lot moister, they also noticed that whatever teeth they had left – because they might have been decayed – they looked brighter,” Leslie Liang said. “There seemed to be a glossiness to them which they wouldn’t have had with a dry mouth.” 

Not all medical practitioners had rave reviews, but then again, in India they’ve been practicing this since the time of Christ. It is only now becoming a potential western treatment, probably because the marketplace has found its profit potential.

As one of those people whose prior decayed tooth extractions have left me with just enough teeth to field a baseball team, I wonder if swishing coconut oil for twenty minutes will whiten my dentures. Then again, perhaps the dentures should be left safely ashore on the bathroom sink during this exercise in turning oral bacteria into tiny dinosaur-like critters trapped in oil to be excavated in a few million years. 


As previously stated, I have not tried coconut oil pulling, but in the interests of research on readers’ behalf, I expect to tackle the challenge sometime in the near future. Not this week, but stay tuned. After all, a mouthful of coconut oil is not a mouth filled with peanut butter, but that’s another story for another column. 


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