A Healthy Oral Microbiome. You’ve probably heard of the gut microbiome, the trillions of microorganisms living in your digestive tract. They dictate almost every single function in your body and without a healthy balance, you’re at risk of developing diseases and illnesses.
But, diet and nutrition start from the mouth, and even though we know there are microorganisms living in our oral cavity, we’ve only recently discovered the importance and role a healthy oral microbiome plays in our systemic health.
What is the Oral Microbiome?
The oral microbiome is a collection of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other microbes living in your mouth. It’s the second largest microbiome after the gut and hosts around 700-1000 microbes. They mostly colonize your saliva, the hard surfaces of your teeth, as well as the soft tissues of the oral mucosa.
Scientists have been struggling to understand and characterize all the microorganisms in the oral microbiome for years, trying to figure out how these results could benefit the world of dentistry and potentially help prevent some of the most commonly known issues like tooth decay, dental plaque, gum disease, and other diseases that contribute to poor oral health.
Thanks to advances in technology, genome sequencing and its use of cutting-edge bioinformatics has finally delivered groundbreaking results which showcase how a healthy oral microbiome and oral hygiene can significantly affect the health of not only your mouth and teeth, but your gut, and your entire body.
The Type of Microbes in the Oral Microbiome
After decoding what type of bacteria, fungi, and other microbes live in the human oral microbiome, scientists have realized that the majority of them are already well-known to us as they colonize and populate the gut microbiome as well. These include:
- Streptococci (various species)
- Porphyromonas gingivalis
These oral microbes live in your mouth day in and day out, and keeping and maintaining their healthy levels is key to systemic health. When the ecosystem is healthy and cared for, the oral microbiome helps prevent inflammation and disease, supports the immune system of your mouth, helps remove toxins and waste from your oral cavity, helps naturally remineralize tooth enamel, prevents tooth decay and cavities, promotes the transport of oxygen to your gums, and plays a huge role in communicating with your gut microbiome and the rest of your body.
It may seem that a healthy oral microbiome only helps sustain healthy oral health, but its actions and anti-inflammatory functions do so much more than that – the human oral microbiome is interlinked with the gut microbiome, and the condition of one directly impacts the other. Keeping it healthy should be at the forefront of everyone’s mind, and it doesn’t only involve brushing your teeth and flossing.
What Impacts the Health of Your Oral Microbiome?
Now that we know how important it is to maintain good levels of beneficial microbes in our mouth, it’s crucial to figure out how to keep it healthy and which lifestyle actions might negatively impact your oral microbial communities.
Some of the lifestyle factors that can cause an imbalance in the ecosystem of your oral microbiota include:
- Smoking and alcohol
- A poor diet rich in excess sugars and highly-processed foods
- Extensive use of harsh toothpaste or antibacterial mouthwash
- An overall poor dental hygiene
- Inconsistent visits to the dentist
All of these factors can increase inflammation in your mouth, cause an excess of bad bacteria that can damage your teeth and tissue, and risk weakening your overall immune system as there are not enough beneficial oral bacteria to mitigate their effects.
The dysbiosis of the oral microbiome can lead to tooth decay, bad breath (halitosis), and inflammation of the gums (gingivitis), which can have detrimental and long-lasting consequences to your entire oral cavity, leading to missing teeth and the need for implants and periodontal disease.
Furthermore, this imbalance can lead to a variety of different and severe health conditions. From chronic issues like immune dysregulation and diabetes, to serious cardiovascular diseases, autism, Alzheimer’s disease, and even mental health disorders. Probably one of the most significant discoveries is a connection between poor oral health and its role in the development of several cancers as well as dangerous pregnancy outcomes.
All of this just goes to show how important it is to keep and maintain a healthy oral microbiome, for the health of teeth, gums, and other soft tissues of the mouth, as well as for the health of the entire human body.
How to Keep a Healthy Oral Microbiome?
Some of the best practices in keeping a healthy oral cavity and supporting your oral microbiome are easy to implement. It just takes a bit of practice and willpower to sustain them. They include:
- Good oral hygiene that involves a high-quality technique of brushing teeth (not just skimming over) as well as flossing
- Regular dental check-ups and teeth cleaning
- Abstaining from excess sugar and inflammatory, processed foods (and remembering to immediately brush your teeth after eating such foods)
- Avoiding smoking and limiting alcohol use
- Eating microbe-promoting foods such as fermented vegetables and kefir
- Never going to sleep without brushing your teeth
- Proper hydration throughout the day to help flush toxins out
- Paying more attention to the brands of toothpaste and mouthwash – ditch the antimicrobials with detergent-based ingredients
- Using oral probiotics (especially if you’re taking antibiotics)
Still, sometimes genetics also play a large part in the health of your oral microbiome and no matter how hard you try to keep everything healthy, you can still be at a high risk of developing tooth decay and gum disease. That’s why it’s even more crucial to pay attention to the early signs of oral diseases and prevent them from wreaking havoc on the oral microbes in your mouth and causing inflammation in your entire body.
Your mouth is the gateway to your entire body, and what we choose to put in it can either promote and support your health or cause inflammation and harm. Taking care of your oral microbiome is crucial for preventing myriad well-known diseases of today, from diabetes and anxiety to hormone imbalance and autoimmune conditions. The oral microbial communities play important roles in your body, and their optimal levels are key to systemic health and longevity.