Oil Pulling and Obamacare

The one thing that extra time at home with no discernable deadline-driven work affords is the chance to get caught up on all the habits you wish you’d been doing if only you had enough time and energy. And also, I have a real sensitive tooth down there on in the left hindquarters of my maw. So, naturally, because I only have dental insurance for another month, I’ve spent most of today trying to understand exactly what this dental policy actually covers. I’m pretty sure I’ve figured out that the card in my wallet is old and all of my important current policy documents are saved securely in an email account I can no longer access.

So, armed with that important progress, I went to Trader Joe’s and bought some coconut oil to make good on adopting a habit that thousands of years of Eastern Medicine swears by for many ills but specifically many dental ills: oil pulling.

Is that a mouth full of oil or are you just happy to see me?

No, sir, that is truly a mouth full of oil. For those unindoctrinated (meaning you didn’t fire up the google machine and type in “oil pulling”), this is the practice of taking a spoonful of a form of either seed or coconut oil (technically it’s supposed to be an oil as close to its purest form so, coconut, olive, sunflower, etc. Don’t mess with canola or vegetable oil as we know it…it’s bad for the Chi, so I hear) and holding it in your mouth, “pulling” it back and forth gently between your teeth for 10-20 minutes or so. When done, you spit out the oil in the trash (and not down a drain unless you want a huge oil clog somewhere in your plumbing) and brush those pearly whites as usual for an extra special kinda clean and tidy in there.

This folk remedy from India (so Healthline.com tells me, though now widely debated and hated in the dark corners of the internet, supposedly can have incredible benefits for oral hygiene and, some say, reducing inflammation in the mouth and perhaps the rest of the body (if you subscribe to the idea that different areas of the mouth connect directly to different major organ systems in the body….like reflexology but in the mouth). For me and my bum molar, I’m hoping to stop whatever dark shadows lurk back there that have a mind to become a cavity…because I’m almost 100% sure I can’t afford that right now.

Given that it’s an incredibly cheap and easy practice, I’m almost amazed that I have tried multiple times to do this and have failed every single time. Why? Because there’s something about it that is just straight up gross. Maybe it’s the chewing down of the initial spoon of coconut oil that exists in a solid until you tell it otherwise. Maybe it’s the viscosity of the oil once melted in there that then becomes inexplicably thin and all too easy to accidentally swallow (which…do. not. swallow. that. It’s pure saturated fat…like napalm for your stomach that’s extra bacterial now that it’s pulled all the bacterial gunk outta your mouth…just no). Maybe it’s that 10-20 minutes is a significant amount of time, a truth not realized until you’re swishing literally ad nauseum.

Ultimately, I think it’s initially gross because those of us used to Western dental care expect the assault of all the mints—spearmint, wintergreen, peppermint—for all things tooth-related, even floss which I always find completely bizarre. So the thought of thick, viscous coconut oil in there that you’ve initially had to approach as a solid is a big stretch from the norm.

That brings me to Obamacare.

Obamacare: The Upscale Mall for Health Insurance

What I’ve decided in this, my latest, attempt to make oil pulling a habit is to embed it in a nighttime routine that includes journaling or reading so that I can take my mind off of whatever dark magic is going on with that swishing. Given the epic fail with the dental insurance card and the looming horizon quickly approaching on the rest of my medical insurance, I thought nothing better than to have a look at healthcare.gov, the panacea of affordable health insurance for those in between while I swish.

Wow. There’s a lot going on in that marketplace. I’ll be honest, it’s impressive in terms of the promise. There, at the click of a button, are scores of plans for purchase, pro-rated based on my estimated income for this next stretch of time; it feels like a panacea of choice and possibility. I can have healthcare even if I don’t have a job! And then I started reading the details of the plans…and my heart sank. I’m not sure I can afford healthcare if I don’t have a job.

The plans are broken out into tiers—Bronze, Silver, and Gold—like Olympic medals…except for whom is unclear. They say that in the actual Olympics, bronze medalists are happiest because usually they didn’t expect to get any medal and they landed on the podium. This does not track for health insurance plans. It’s clear that the bronze medalists in this olympics are one major surgery, accident, or cancer away from complete and total financial ruin, possibly lasting across generations. With the cost of the gold plans, I question the audience; it’s as if a car dealership had a selection of private planes on hand just in case Kanye walked in one day asking for one. Who in the world is logging in to healthcare.gov that can spend $1500 a month per person covered for health insurance??? YouTube glitterati? All of those incredibly rich small business owners and freelancers? I don’t know.

So that means the rest of us stupid idiots are essentially led to the silver brick road of health which includes a deductible high enough to make me take out a loan to cover a major health event, co-pays that will cause me to choose the doctors office OR fresh veggies at the grocery store this week, and an HMO network that I’m sure is…questionable and in which none of my current doctors participate. All of this for the medium impact of about $300 a month, which is more than my car payment.

This is really the first time I’ve had to go to this fine marketplace and my grand takeaways are thus: 1) it’s good there is a place available and central to address the very scary situation of losing or not having healthcare. Thank you, Obama, for making this a thing that is relatively simple and straightforward. 2) this is only a pseudo-marketplace in that the choices are clownish. You either take the “I’m destined to stay poor and likely unwell” plan or the “I’ll be healthy enough to (mostly) pay off my almost guaranteed medical debt” plan. Unless you can afford the Cessna sitting at the Buick dealership. And 3)THIS IS NO WAY FOR AN INDUSTRIALIZED, WEALTHY NATION TO VALUE THE HEALTH OF ITS PEOPLE.

Never have I felt more vulnerable regarding my own health than looking at this website. I found myself dreaming of moving to London.

But at least I’ll have good teeth.

The funny thing about this rabbit hole into healthcare on this particular night is that I consider it a win. After all was said and done, I oil pulled for about 50 minutes because my mind was completely occupied with the sudden onset depression caused by remembering and re-engaging with the ridiculous healthcare system we have in this country. My teeth are already noticeably whiter and potentially healthier.

This is a habit I should definitely keep up…because none of those silver plans have dental.

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