Yesterday, I was interviewed and filmed by a Canadian TV-journalist. Even though the subject was osteopathy (apparently, in Canada, osteopathy is strong and full of woo), we found ourselves talking about ‘oil pulling’. I knew next to nothing about this alternative therapy, but learnt that it was big in North America. When the TV-crew had left my home, I therefore read up about it. I must admit, I was more than a little sceptical about the therapy – not least because I soon found articles by fellow sceptics that were less than complimentary – but, as I studied the original research on oil pulling, my scepticism somewhat waned.
So, what is oil pulling? It is the use of oil for swishing it around your mouth for alleged health benefits. Here are several short points that might explain it more fully:
- Oil pulling is said to have roots that reach back to ancient Hindu texts. Coconut or sesame oils are usually employed for this therapy.
- The mechanism of action (if there is one at all) is poorly understood, and several theories have been put forward:
Alkali hydrolysis of fat results in saponification or “soap making” process. Since the oils used for oil pulling contain fat, the alkali hydrolysis process emulsifies the fat into bicarbonate ions, normally found in the saliva. Soaps then blend in the oil, increase the surface area of the oil, and thus cleanse the teeth and gums.
A second theory suggests that the viscous nature of the oil inhibits plaque accumulation and adhesion of bacteria.
A third theory holds that the antioxidants present in the oil prevent lipid peroxidation, resulting in an antibiotic-like effect helping in the destruction of microorganisms.
- Oil pulling is recommended to be carried out in the morning on an empty stomach. About 10 ml of oil is swished between the teeth for a duration of approximately 15-20 min and spat out. This ritual should be followed by rinsing and tooth brushing. The practice should be repeated regularly, even three times daily for acute diseases.
- To my surprise, oil pulling has been tested in clinical trials. Some of these investigations seem reasonably sound and suggest that coconut oil pulling reduces potentially harmful bacteria in the mouth. This effect has been shown to lead to a reduction in dental plaque formation , halitosis (bad breath)  and gingivitis. 
- The evidence for these oral effects is by no means strong, but I have not found studies that show negative results.
- Dentists – even the bizarre species of ‘holistic dentists‘ – do not seem to be balled over by oil pulling (some malicious minds might speculate that this is so because they cannot earn much money with it).
- The claimed benefits of oil pulling are, however, not limited to the oral cavity. It is advocated also for the prevention and treatment of conditions such as headaches, migraines, thrombosis, eczema, diabetes and asthma. Some proponents also claim that oil pulling is a detox therapy. Unsurprisingly, none of these claims are supported by good evidence.
- As long as you don’t swallow the oil, there are no serious risks associated with oil pulling.
So, what is the conclusion? To me, the evidence looks promising as far as oral health is concerned. For all other indication, oil pulling is neither plausible nor evidence-based.
Holistic ideas are booming, and they do not stop at dental medicine, where procedures and techniques that take an alleged ‘holistic’ approach are becoming more and more popular. Are these procedures and techniques effective, and do they offer a benefit over their conventional counterparts, or is it rather the providers of such procedures and techniques who benefit from a lack of knowledge and understanding in patients who seek out this so-called alternative dentistry? This paper will take a look at three topics—the concept of projections, material testing approaches, amalgam removal—that form the basis for many procedures and techniques in so-called alternative dentistry, to examine whether they offer a sound foundation for said procedures and techniques, or whether they are merely empty promises. Might they be nothing but marketing tricks?
The concept of projections suggests that conventional medicine does look closely enough at the human body, ignoring as of yet undiscovered energy lines and other mysterious linkages. Material testing approaches claim to detect harmful and allergenic components, the removal of which may be beneficial in case of systemic diseases, possibly even curing them. Beginning on July 1, 2018, the use of amalgam will be strongly restricted all throughout Europe. This easy-to-use material has received much attention for decades, as it contains a large proportion of mercury, which is known for its high neurotoxicity, and is, therefore, suspected of causing illness in the long term.
Normally, we think of projections as requiring a screen, onto which something then can be projected. Teeth, however, are also ideally suited as a dumping ground for the underlying causes of somatic and/or mental diseases, from where they can radiate out as so-called projections. Once these are identified as the true cause of disease, other potential causes such as age-related wear and tear, detrimental behaviors, or harmful eating habits can be readily ignored. This concept of projections may have particularly harmful and negative consequences in patients with tumors, as it may cause feelings of guilt, although in many cases no definite cause of tumor development can be discerned. Projected feelings of guilt, in turn, can be a negative influence on a person’s health.
The so-called “system of meridians” assigns relationship qualities to individual teeth, meaning that there are strict relationships of individual teeth to the body’s organs and individual entities. 
According to this system, an inflammation of the urinary bladder would be related to the number 1 teeth, the incisors. Rheumatism is linked to the number 8 teeth, the wisdom teeth. In between, there are the teeth of the ordinal numbers 2 to 7, distinguished by their locations on the left or right, in the upper or lower jaw, which offer a wealth of opportunities to assign a “guilty tooth” to clinically common physical complaints. However, this mysterious connection is postulated not only for teeth and major organs, but also for joints, vertebral levels, sensory organs, tonsils, and glands, with the relationships neatly organized in ten groups and subgroups. Multiplied by the number of teeth—eight per each of the four quadrants, 32 in total—these afford the “holistic dentist” 320 opportunities for projecting physical complaints ranging from asthma to zonulitis onto a tooth. Those who believe in this system of projections are not deterred by the fact that there is no scientific proof whatsoever for this odd thesis.
On the other hand, it is basic medical knowledge that pathogens may spread hematogenically and affect remote organs. Seeking adequate specialist counsel when dealing with rheumatic diseases, fevers of unclear etiology, or in conjunction with orthopedic joint surgeries, is, therefore, mandated by guidelines and an obvious standard in the practice of medicine. So-called alternative dentistry makes no particular mention of these general facts, but instead focuses on occult-seeming correlations in order to use a mysterious, almost conspiratorial idea of a disease to legitimize the often invasive treatment options it then recommends. Most patients will not realize that these interpretations often mistake synchronicity for causality. For example, most infections of the urinary bladder will resolve over time, regardless of whether any work was done on the upper incisors or not. However, if during the period of healing one of the incisors was treated by a dentist, it is easy enough to associate this treatment with the resolving bladder infection. From a psychological viewpoint, this constitutes a simple manipulation technique, applied to demonstrate the seemingly superior diagnostics of alternative dentistry: a simple, and easily recognized marketing strategy.
When asked what would happen to these doubtful projections in case of an autologous transplantation during which a tooth would move to another tooth’s original place in the jaw, three leading representatives of the so-called alternative dentistry answered in an evasive and even manipulative manner. 
There are reports of invasive therapies, conducted following dubious, often electromedical diagnostic procedures, that not only lead to high costs for the repair of the damage they caused, but also to a lasting mutilation of the patients’ jaws and dentitions. [3-6]
Another supposedly holistic school of thought that is similar to that of the system of meridians exists in some fields of dentistry regarding temporo-mandibular joint dysfunction (TMJD, TMD). These theories suggest that a disbalance in the interaction between jaw bones and masticatory muscles may be responsible for all kinds of diseases. 
According to the German self-appointed “TMJD Umbrella Organization” (CMD-Dachverband e. V.), TMJD is a “multifaceted disease.” The claim is that TMJD may not only cause back pain, vertigo, and tinnitus, but also sleep apnea, snoring, neck and shoulder pain, hip and knee pain, headaches, migraines, visual, mood swings, and even depression. However, there is no scientific evidence for any of these claims. [8,9]
Jens C. Türp of the University Center for Dental Medicine Basel’s Department of Oral Health & Medicine, Division Temporomandibular Disorders and Orofacial Pain, has called this standard diagnosis, offered by TMJD diagnosticians whenever a patient shows signs of nocturnal teeth grinding, “nonsense that makes your hair stand on end.”
“For a variety of general symptoms, it is claimed that they are caused by a TMJD: Tinnitus, ocular pressure, differences in the lengths of a person’s legs, back pain, hip pain, and knee pain, balance disorders, tingling in the fingers and many more. ‘A relationship [with TMJD] has never been proven for any of these symptoms’, says Türp. According to him, true TMJD causes problems with chewing and pain. Affected patients have difficulties opening their mouth wide or closing it fully. The “CMD-Arztsuche” (Find a TMJD Specialist) website recommends ‘a lasting correction of a person’s bite’ as treatment. This should be achieved with the help of ceramic inlays, dental crowns, and implants— all of which are expensive and unnecessary measures, in the opinion of Jens Türp. He treats his TMJD patients–almost always successfully, as he says–with occlusal splints, physiotherapy, and relaxation exercises.” (Translated from German )
In general, any patient should be advised, therefore, to seek a second opinion whenever confronted with a diagnosis requiring invasive treatments.
1. Madsen, H. Studie zur Kieferorthopädie in der Alternativmedizin: Darstellung der Grundlagen und kritische Bewertung. Doctoral dissertation, Poliklinik für Kieferorthopädie der Universität Würzburg. Würzburg 1994
2. Schulte von Drach, M.C. Wenn Zähne fremdgehen. Süddeutsche Zeitung May 15, 2012.
3. Staehle, H.J. Der Patientin wurde das Gebiss verstümmelt. Zahnärztliche Mitteilungen 2000.
4. Dowideit, A. Wenn nach der “Störfeld-Messung” alle Backenzähne fehlen. Welt June 3, 2017.
5. Bertelsen, H.-W. Die Attraktvität “ganzheitlicher” Zahnmedizin – Teil 1: Bohren ohne Reue. skeptiker 2012, 4.
6. Bertelsen, H.-W. Die Attraktivität “ganzheitlicher” Zahnmedizin – Teil 2: Bohren ohne Reue. skeptiker 2013, 4.
7. CMD Dachverband e. V. Craniomandibuläre Dysfunktion – Ursachen & Symptome. http://www.cmd-dachverband.de/fuer-patienten/ursachen-symptome/ (May 11, 2018),
8. Wolf, T. Die richtige Hilfe bei Kieferbeschwerden. Spiegel Online July 7, 2014, 2014.
9. Türp, J.C.; Schindler, H.-J.; Antes, G. Temporomandibular disorders: Evaluation of the usefulness of a self-test questionnaire. Zeitschrift für Evidenz, Fortbildung und Qualität im Gesundheitswesen 2013, 107, 285-290.
10. Albrecht, B. Teure Tricks der Zahnärzte – so schützen Sie sich vor Überbehandlung. stern February 18, 2016.
The UK ‘COLLEGE OF MEDICINE’ has recently (and very quietly) renamed itself; it now is THE COLLEGE OF MEDICINE AND INTEGRATED HEALTH (COMIH). This takes it closer to its original intentions of being the successor of the PRINCE OF WALES FOUNDATION FOR INTEGRATED MEDICINE (PWFIM), the organisation that had to be shut down amidst charges of fraud and money-laundering. Originally, the name of COMIH was to be COLLEGE OF INTEGRATED HEALTH (as opposed to disintegrated health?, I asked myself at the time).
Under the leadership of Dr Michael Dixon, OBE (who also led the PWFIM into its demise), the COMIH pursues all sots of activities. One of them seems to be publishing ‘cutting-edge’ articles.
START OF QUOTE
Professor Sonia Williams … explores how integrated oral health needs to consider the whole body, not just the dentition…
Complementary and alternative approaches can also be considered as complementary to ‘mainstream’ care, with varying levels of evidence cited for their benefit.
Dental hypnosis (British Society of Medical and Dental Hypnosis) can help support patients including those with dental phobia or help to reduce pain experience during treatment.
Acupuncture in dentistry (British Society of Dental Acupuncture) can, for instance, assist with pain relief and allay the tendency to vomit during dental care. There is also a British Homeopathic Dental Association.
For the UK Faculty of General Dental Practitioners, holistic dentistry refers to strengthening the link between general and oral health.
For some others, the term also represents an ‘alternative’ form of dentistry, which may concern itself with the avoidance and elimination of ‘toxic’ filling materials, perceived potential harm from fluoride and root canal treatments and with treating dental malocclusion to put patients back in ‘balance’.
In the USA, there is a Holistic Dental Association, while in the UK, there is the British Society for Mercury-free Dentistry. Unfortunately the evidence base for many of these procedures is weak.
Nevertheless, pressure to avoid mercury in dental restorative materials is becoming mainstream.
In summary, integrated health and care in dentistry can mean different things to different people. The weight of evidence supports the contention that the mouth is an integral part of the body and that attention to the one without taking account of the other can have adverse consequences.
END OF QUOTE
Do I get this right? ‘Holistic dentistry’ in the UK means the recognition that my mouth belongs to my body, and the adoption of a few dubious treatments with w ‘weak’ evidence base?
Well, isn’t this just great? I had no idea that my mouth belongs to my body. And clearly the non-holistic dentists in the UK are oblivious to this fact as well. I am sooooooo glad we got this cleared up.
And what about the alternative treatments used by holistic dentists?
The British Society of Medical and Dental Hypnosis (Scotland) inform us on their website that a trained medical and dental hypnotherapists can help you to deal with a large variety of challenges that you face in your everyday life e.g.
|Anxiety & Stress||Smoking Cessation|
|Weight Problems||Psychosexual Disorders|
|Irritable Bowel||And many other conditions|
I hasten to add that, for most of these conditions, the evidence fails to support the claims.
The British Society of Dental Acupuncture claim on their website that the typical conditions that may be helped by acupuncture are:
- TMJ (jaw joint) problems
- Facial pain
- Muscle spasm in the head and neck
- Stress headaches & Migraine
- Rhinitis & sinusitis
- Dry mouth problems
- Post-operative pain
- Dental anxiety
I hasten to add that, for most of these conditions, the evidence fails to support the claims.
The British Homeopathic Dental Association claim on their website that studies have shown improved bone healing around implants with Symphytum and reduced discomfort and improved healing time with ulcers and beneficial in oral lichen planus.
I hasten to add that none of these claims are not supported by sound evidence.
The COMIH article is entitled “The mouth reflects whole body health – but what does integrated care mean for dentists?’ So, what does it mean? Judging from this article, it means an amalgam (pun intended) of platitudes, bogus claims and outright nonsense.
Pity that they did not change their name to College of Medicine and Integrated Care – I could have abbreviated it as COMIC!
The fact that many dentists practice dubious alternative therapies receives relatively little attention. In 2016, for instance, Medline listed just 31 papers on the subject of ‘complementary alternative medicine, dentistry’, while there were more than 1800 on ‘complementary alternative medicine’. Similarly, I have discussed this topic just once before on this blog. Clearly, the practice of alternative medicine by dentists begs many questions – perhaps a new paper can answer some of them?
The aims of this study were to “analyse whether dentists offer or recommend complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) remedies in their clinical routine, and how effective these are rated by proponents and opponents. A second aim of this study was to give a profile of the dentists endorsing CAM.
A prospective, explorative, anonymised cross-sectional survey was spread among practicing dentists in Germany via congresses, dental periodicals and online (n=250, 55% male, 45% female; mean age 49.1±11.4years).
Of a set of 31 predefined CAM modalities, the dentists integrated plant extracts from Arnica montana (64%), chamomile (64%), clove (63%), Salvia officinalis (54%), relaxation therapies (62%), homeopathy (57%), osteopathic medicine (50%) and dietetics (50%). The effectiveness of specific treatments was rated significantly higher by CAM proponents than opponents. However, also CAM opponents classified some CAM remedies as highly effective, namely ear acupuncture, osteopathic medicine and clove.
With respect to the characteristic of the proponents, the majority of CAM-endorsing dentists were women. The mean age (50.4±0.9 vs 47.0±0.9years) and number of years of professional experience (24.2±1.0 vs 20.0±1.0years) were significantly higher for CAM proponents than the means for opponents. CAM proponents worked significantly less and their perceived workload was significantly lower. Their self-efficacy expectation (SEE) and work engagement (Utrecht work engagement, UWE) were significantly higher compared to dentists who abandoned these treatment options. The logistic regression model showed an increased association from CAM proponents with the UWES subscale dedication, with years of experience, and that men are less likely to be CAM proponents than women.
The authors concluded that various CAM treatments are recommended by German dentists and requested by their patients, but the scientific evidence for these treatments are often low or at least unclear. CAM proponents are often female, have higher SE and work engagement.
GIVE ME A BREAK!!!
These conclusion are mostly not based on the data provided.
The researchers seemed to insist on addressing utterly trivial questions.
They failed to engage in even a minimum amount of critical thinking.
If, for instance, dentists are convinced that ear-acupuncture is effective, they are in urgent need of some rigorous education in EBM, I would argue. And if they use a lot of unproven therapies, researchers should ask whether this phenomenon is not to a large extend motivated by their ambition to improve their income.
Holistic dentistry, as it is ironically often called (there is nothing ‘holistic’ about ripping off patients), is largely a con, and dentists who engage in such practices are mostly charlatans … but why does hardly anyone say so?