Attention to our oral care is often overlooked, and its critical importance underestimated. For the past several years, I have attended the Anokhi Holistic Dental Clinic in the CBD of Sydney, where I have received exceptional care for my teeth and gums. On our site we have often written about the importance of a healthy gut microbiome, however it is important to know that we also have other microbiome systems in the body, including in the oral cavity and the skin. We are delighted to share with you an article written by Dr Aushi Patel to introduce you to the importance of our oral microbiome and its role in not only dental, but overall health.
Bacterial life pre-dates human life on earth by approximately 3 billion years, it is estimated. These life forms have enormous innate intelligence and capacity to adapt to environmental changes, ensuring their survival.
Within the oral cavity there are over 800 species of bacteria which make up the oral microbiome. When healthy, these microbes live harmoniously in symbiosis, meaning co-existing in a mutually beneficial relationship within the host, that is, us.
However, there are a number of factors which can disrupt this healthy balance, potentially resulting in compromised dental health, which can, in turn, impact other systems in the body.
The oral microbes combine with saliva and plaque to form a protective sticky lining called a “biofilm”, coating all surfaces within the mouth. You may be aware of this layer as you run your tongue across your teeth. This biofilm has essential roles including oxygenating the gums, remineralising the teeth and providing protection against pathogenic, or harmful, bacteria entering the body.
According to research, the ways in which the bacteria behave in our mouths is determined by the environment in which they live. This contradicts the popular view that there are “good” and “bad” bacteria. The same bacteria which has been associated with dental caries and gum disease can be harmless when the microbiome is in balance!
Think of the oral microbiome as a garden….
The soil in which plants grow significantly impacts their health. If the soil is enriched with nutrients, water and the correct microbial balance, the plants will thrive. Equally, growing certain plants together may be complementary or antagonistic. For example tomatoes and corn do not thrive when grown together. Beans and garlic is another example.
The same principle applies to the flora, or garden, within our mouths. There must be harmony for optimal function.
Whilst there has been a growing awareness of the importance of a healthy gut microbiome, it is easy to forget that the mouth is actually part of the gastro intestinal tract! The health of the gut microbiome, where 70% of our immune system resides, has a profound influence our overall systemic health. So too, does the health of the oral microbiome.
The signs that tell us that we have a healthy oral microbiome are pink gums, which are not inflamed or bleeding, fresh breath and teeth that feel clean. This indicates that the majority of the bacteria are “aerobic”, meaning dependent on oxygen.
Conversely, symptoms such as halitosis (bad breath), sensitive teeth, bleeding gums, tooth decay and mouth ulcers may signal an unhealthy microbiome. In this scenario it is likely that there is a dominance of “anaerobic” bacteria, that is, bacteria that thrive with little oxygen and often sequester in gum pockets surrounding the teeth.
Not only are these bacteria implicated in tooth decay and gum disease, but also in inflammatory diseases such as atherosclerosis, diabetes, arthritis and Alzheimer’s Disease.
This type of bacteria can produce harmful toxins in the mouth, which can be subsequently absorbed into the systemic circulation via the gums. This means that these toxins can travel throughout the body, contributing to inflammation and disease such as those mentioned above. You may be familiar with the term “leaky gut”? Perhaps we should also be thinking about “leaky gums”?
Given all of the above, it makes sense that maintaining a healthy environment of the mouth will keep these bugs in check.
Here are some tips:
- Manage stress. If we are stressed our microbiome will be stressed! Have you ever noticed during times of stress, fear or anxiety your mouth feels dry?
Saliva is the lifeblood of the mouth – it cleanses and remineralises teeth with calcium and phosphorus. It also delivers other nutrients to the gums, as well as antibacterial enzymes and immune cells.
When the mouth is dry, the teeth and gums are dry. This depletes the protection that saliva provides, rendering gums more susceptible to disease. Stress also leads to a shift towards a more acidic pH in the mouth. This, in turn, leads to acidity in the body which promotes unhealthy clenching and grinding of teeth as well as jaw discomfort.
So, managing your stress can assist in the health of your mouth. Some ways to do this include spending time in nature, establishing a good sleep routine, processing one’s emotions, yoga and meditation.
- Reduce sugar and refined carbohydrates in your diet.
When bacteria feed on sugars and carbohydrates, acids are produced which slowly destroy the enamel and dentine of the teeth, potentially leading to tooth decay.
A diet high in refined carbohydrates and sugar can also cause a shift in the pH of the mouth from slightly alkaline to acidic. This in turn promotes the overgrowth and harmful activity of disease causing bacteria.
- Ensure good nutrition.
It goes without saying that good nutrition is the cornerstone of health in every sense.
What we eat and how we eat also plays an important role in the health of our mouths.
- Increase your intake of alkalising, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant-rich foods such as fresh fruit and vegetables.
- Stay well hydrated.
- Support your gut health with fermented foods such as kimchi and sauerkraut.
- Eat more naturally fibrous foods such as carrots and apples. These have a cleansing effect on the mouth.
- Check your oral hygiene products and daily oral care routine.
Consider the oral-care products you are using.
Detergent based toothpastes and alcohol containing mouthwashes can disturb the microbiome balance, stripping both harmful and beneficial bacteria.
Consider swapping to an alcohol free version of herbal mouthwash or using coconut oil.
Clean your tongue daily using a tongue scraper to remove toxins from the mouth, thereby preventing entry to body.
Find out more about Dr Patel and Anokhi dental clinic here.