I Have a Microbiome…in My Mouth?

Not all bacteria are bad!  Our bodies also host a range of good bacteria that help keep us healthy.  They are part of your body’s microbiome, which is defined as a community of microorganisms (such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses) living on or in the human body.  There is an emerging field of medical research on our microbiomes and how the bacteria that live on and in our bodies affect our health. Perhaps you’ve heard of the microbiome in your gut and how it can impact your health ranging from mental well-being to digestion, but did you know there is also a microbiome in your mouth?  Fascinating, right!? We’ve discussed how our oral health impacts our overall health before, now let’s zoom in to the microscopic level and learn about the microbiome in our mouths.

Your Oral Microbiome

You swallow about 1 trillion bacteria each day (!!!) and have a unique community of bacteria that live in your mouth known as your oral microbiome.  Your oral cavity has different habitats, from your tongue to your teeth to your tonsils where some 700 different bacteria exist and help perform vital functions such as transporting ionic minerals and carrying molecular oxygen.  There is a symbiotic relationship between us and the microbes that live within us…they help us stay healthy and thrive! You’re probably familiar with one of the most famous symbiotic relationships: E.T. (everyone’s favorite cinematic extra-terrestrial) and the little boy Elliot.  In the movie when E.T. was healthy, so was Elliot. When E.T. got sick, so did Elliot. Don’t be afraid to make friends with your microbiome!   

As we’ve noted before, the mouth is a great window into the body, often reflecting systemic disease before it can be determined by other means.  This is why we do a thorough examination of your whole mouth when you come in for a routine cleaning. When your oral microbiome is healthy and balanced we see that reflected in your mouth.  For example, when the plaque (or oral biofilm) in your mouth is healthy, it forms a clear, odorless, protective film. Your teeth feel clean and your gums look healthy and pink. When imbalanced, the plaque becomes sticky, white, has an odor, and over time contributes to tooth decay and gum disease.  You may notice symptoms such as bad breath and bleeding gums with an imbalanced microbiome. What’s interesting to note is that a number of bacteria associated with tooth decay and gum disease still exist in mouths with a healthy microbiome, but do not have the same adverse effects. Keeping the environment in your mouth healthy through routine oral health care is what’s important for maintaining a healthy oral microbiome.  So keep on brushing and flossing!

The Mouth-Body Connection

Your oral microbiome’s impact extends beyond your teeth and gums.  Research has shown that oral microbiomes have a link with gastrointestinal diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, nervous system diseases such as Alzheimer’s, and endocrine system diseases such as diabetes.  We’ve discussed some of these correlations, such as your oral health and diabetes, on the blog before, and cannot stress enough how important dental care is to your overall health.  Here are some examples of the link between these health conditions and your oral microbiome:

  • Gastrointestinal Diseases:  People with gastrointestinal diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), often have correlating oral symptoms like dry mouth and mouth ulcers.  People with IBD routinely have an imbalance of oral bacteria in the gut. It has also been found that people with advanced gum disease and tooth loss have an increased risk for gastrointestinal, pancreatic, and liver cancer.   
  • Nervous System Diseases:  Researchers have been studying the gut-brain axis and its connection to disease and have found that a healthy gut biome is integral to decreasing the development of diseases such as Alzheimer’s, depression, and anxiety.   Given the close connection between the oral microbiome and the gut, oral health plays a role here as well. In fact there was a ground-breaking study from 2019 that showed bacteria responsible for gum disease also appeared in Alzheimer’s patients’ brains.
  • Endocrine System Diseases:  We know that diabetes increases your risk of dental diseases and oral symptoms such as dry mouth and gum disease.  However, it has also been found that  people with periodontitis, or gum disease, have an increased risk of developing diabetes. It’s unclear which exactly happens first, the development of the disease or an imbalanced oral microbiome, but researchers continue to study the correlation and relationship between the two areas. 

We find it compelling to learn more and more about how our oral health is linked with our overall health.  We always like to say that we are part of your healthcare team: our goal is to keep you informed and to help you make the best choices for your health.  If you ever have any questions about how we can help you, please don’t hesitate to ask any of our team members!

Oral Care with Your Oral Microbiome in Mind

So, what can you do to keep your oral microbiome and your whole body healthy?  We can never say it too much: maintain your oral health care routine of twice daily brushing, daily flossing, and regular visits to our office for check-ups.  As part of this, we also recommend avoiding oral-care products that have harsh detergents or mouthwash with alcohol as part of their ingredients. These products may destroy the microbiome–the good bacteria along with the bad.  Look for alcohol-free mouthwash and toothpaste without sodium laurel sulfate (SLS) or triclosan.

Diet is also a big part of maintaining a healthy oral microbiome.  We often talk about the importance of a healthy diet for the health of your mouth, and this is just another reason to stress the importance of approaching your oral health holistically.  Keep your diet rich in vegetables, high-calcium dairy products, protein, and omega-3s, and avoid excess sugar and complex carbohydrates. There are lots of ways to do this…loading up on dark leafy greens, yogurt, strawberries, eggs, and sardines, for example. Your mouth and your whole body will thank you! 

Your mouth is an extraordinary place and we love helping you take care of it!  We are here to provide you with the best care possible…from the tiny microorganisms in your mouth to your whole body.  Please let us know if you have any questions about your oral health care or if you need to schedule your next appointment by calling our office at 207.781.5900.

 

 

*Image courtesy of www.askthedentist.com