What Role does Bacteria Play in our Oral Wellbeing? The overlooked Microbiome in our Mouths:

by Dajana Ivkovic January 01, 2023

What Role does Bacteria Play in our Oral Wellbeing? The overlooked Microbiome in our Mouths:

We've all heard about how important the gut microbiome is for our immune system, digestion, and even our mental health, but what about our oral microbiome? If we want to take proper care of our well-being, we shouldn’t overlook the dynamic microbial environment in our oral cavity and its role in keeping our body and mind healthy.

Our mouth is the home of our teeth, gums, taste buds, and numerous bacteria that work together to protect their neighbors. It is a complex and incredible system that we can harm and prevent from doing its job as a protector if we don’t know how to support our oral microbiome.

Let’s take a closer look at mindblowing facts about the oral microbiome and its impact on our overall health.

 

The Connection Between Microbiome and a Healthy Body and Mind

Did you know that our body contains 39 trillion microbial cells? That’s more than the number of our human cells (there are 30 trillion of them). How incredible is that??

Among these trillions of microbes that inhabit different parts of our bodies are bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Now, don’t frown and make a “this is gross” face just yet because these microbes actually keep us healthy—not just physically, but mentally as well.

The gut microbe, for example, breaks down toxins, absorbs, nutrients, and assists in activating the genes in human cells, among other things. During infancy, the gut microbiome helps us develop our gut immune system, and as we grow and develop, it helps us to maintain it.

There are numerous ongoing research studies on how the gut microbiome affects different body parts such as the lungs, heart, liver, and brain. Speaking of our brain, gut bacteria produce neurochemicals (hundreds of them) that our brain uses to regulate psychological and mental processes like mood, memory, and learning.

For example, 95% of the body’s supply of serotonin (a chemical that influences your mood and gastrointestinal activity) is manufactured by gut bacteria. So, it may seem crazy, but your gut microbiome has a critical role in the state of your mind.

We shouldn’t overlook the skin biome as well. Dr. Richard Gallo, a leading medical scientist in the fields of human immunology, skin biology, and the microbiome. Heexplains that “the microbes on our skin have co-evolved with our body to help protect it and maintain health. One general theme is that they help to protect against pathogens and limit inflammation.” So, the skin biome protects our bodies from outside harm, improves our immune system, eases inflammation, and fights off infections.

Studies have shown that getting in touch with microbiomes present in nature (for example in soil and plants) can actually recharge our immune defense system. One study presented breakthrough findings on how rubbing dirt on your hands can be good for your skin and your health. Researchers involved in the study explain how “being closer to nature-derived microbes is a type of “drill” for our immune systems.”

There is so much more to be discovered on the topic of microbiomes and bacteria. What’s widely popular in the world of science right now is bacterial whole genome sequencing (WGS), which is finding bacteria that already exist and that can be leveraged to do our bidding for us. So, yes, bacteria are even used for finding cures.

But what about oral microbiomes? Does our mouth's ecosystem also have an army of bacteria that are protecting us from outside dangers? Let’s find out!

 

What is an Oral Microbiome?

An oral microbiome collection of around 50 to 100 billion bacteria (there are fungi and viruses in there too) and they are helping us live in harmony as long as we give them the basics to stay healthy. The oral cavity has the second largest microbiota (the gut microbiota holds the first place) and it harbors over 700 species of bacteria.

Some of the most common bacteria in our oral microbiome include:

  • Staphylococci
  • Lactobacilli
  • Bifidobacteria
  • Streptococcus mutans (and other Streptococci species
  • Candida
  • Porphyromonas gingivalis
  • Veillonella
Our mouth’s ecosystem is fundamental for healthy teeth and gums, it’s important for systemic health, and (be prepared to be shocked) even has unimaginable connections with Alzheimer, diabetes, cardiovascular health, and many other health conditions you couldn’t even expect. Simply put, the importance of the oral microbiome goes beyond the oral cavity.

The mouth is the connection between our gut and the outside environment so it also affects our gut microbiome. Oral microbiota can change our gut microbial ecosystem either directly (through translocation) or indirectly (by oral bacteria and secretomes). Recent studies have shown that oral-derived bacteria can colonize our intestines and persist there which can then lead to activation of the intestinal immune system and chronic inflammation.

Oral bacteria are quite fascinating as each of our microbiomes is unique and it can even act as our identifier (just like a fingerprint). Since there are millions of them out there in the form of hundreds of different species, so if we want to work on oral health, we need to know how to handle them.

Some of the bacteria are good and some of them are bad, so it’s all about striking a balance and promoting the good bacteria while eliminating the bad ones which can cause cavities, bleeding gums or gingivitis, and other nasty things.

 

How Oral Microbes Promote Health

Oral microbes have been a part of our bodies from the very beginning of our existence. By now, we have already figured out the magnificence of our body and how everything in it has its purpose, and the same goes for oral bacteria.  

Beneficial oral microbes work as a team and support our health in many different ways. Here are a few examples of what helpful bacteria do for our oral and whole-body health:

  • They supply our oral cavity with the appropriate antibodies to protect it from diseases
  • They help with remineralizing tooth enamel
  • They help with food digestion and act as a protector from harmful microbes in our food
  • They transform the nitrate from fruits and veggies into nitrite, which then turns into nitric oxide, a gas that helps with regulating blood pressure
  • They maintain homeostasis within our mouths
  • They act as a means of transport for oxygen to our gums

What’s surprising is that the biggest enemy of our oral microbiome isn’t the bad bacteria, but the extinction of the good ones. If you wipe out all the bacteria in your mouth, you’ll lose your oral cavity's protective force. One glaring downside of ver-the-counter antiseptic mouthwashes is exactly that. They can kill beneficial oral microbes, especially when used too often.

A study has shown that healthy people who used chlorhexidine mouthwash have experienced a huge change in their salivary microbiomes which lead to more acidity in the mouth and lower nitrite levels with a trend toward higher blood pressure.

But how can you know if your oral microbe is in good shape? Dentists are the only reliable source for this answer. However, if you have signs of oral diseases—such as bad breath, cavities, or any form of gum disease—that means that something went wrong and your oral microbiome is no longer in its much-needed harmony.

 

Harmful Bacteria in Oral Microbiome

Don’t let the story of the “perfect” symbiosis of oral bacteria fool you, as there are antagonists in the oral microbiome story. Certain bacteria don’t want to contribute to oral health but they deteriorate them. The mouth houses numerous anaerobes (oxygen-independent bacterium) that are responsible for oral diseases.

The imbalance of oral microbiome or dysbiosis can show up in many ways, including:

 

Cavities

 

 

Tooth Decay

 

 

Bleeding gums (gingivitis)

 

 

Gum disease (periodontitis)

 

 

Bad breath (so don’t relate bad breath to bad oral hygiene as it may be a symptom of microbial imbalance

 

Possibly the biggest bully in the oral ecosystem is the Streptococcus mutans. This bacteria revels in sugar and they produce acid compounds that dissolve the outer layer of tooth enamel which then leads to tooth decay.

Also, let’s not forget the Prevotella intermedia, Porphyromonas gingivalis, and Treponema denticola—bacteria that are responsible for causing bad breath.

Just as good bacteria work together to protect our bodily system, bad bacteria team up as well. Eliminating just one won’t stop the problem. For example, harmful bacteria join forces to create the matrix, a sticky, slimy material that makes the plaque hard to remove.

What can help you keep the bad bacteria from thriving in your mouth is knowing which habits deteriorate the health of your microbiome. Here are some habits that trigger the negative effects of harmful bacteria:

 

Poor diet (high in acidic foods, processed foods, sugar, etc.)

 

 

Poor dental hygiene

 

 

Irregular visits to dental cleanings
(leaving bad bacteria more time to take over and do damage)

 

 

Antimicrobial oral hygiene products (like mouthwash)

                                                                                             

 

Smoking tobacco

             

 

Use of antibiotics and other antimicrobials.

 

How to Get a Healthy Oral Microbiome

 

It may seem that keeping your oral microbiome happy and healthy is impossible or a hard endeavor, but in fact, it is quite simple. If you stay away from the bad habits and stick to the good ones that support the microbiome’s balance, you can have a thriving mouth-body connection.

Bear in mind that doing everything right doesn’t mean that you’ll never have to deal with another oral disease in your life. What healthy habits will ensure is that you keep those harmful bacteria in control as much as you can and minimize your chances of oral health problems.

If you want to support your oral microbiome, follow these practices:


1. Visit a dentist on a regular basis

A rule of thumb is to go to the dentist twice a year for a basic check-up. In case you notice any unpleasant changes (pain, discomfort, or swelling), don’t wait until it gets worse but schedule a dentist appointment at the first sign of trouble. Professional cleaning is also important for removing buildup. Dentists generally recommend that you do this every six months.

2. Follow an oral care routine religiously

It should go without saying that oral hygiene is a necessary step for a balanced oral microbiome. That means brushing your teeth twice a day (aim for a toothpaste that is as natural as possible) and daily flossing. Regular brushing and flossing remove the bad bacteria and don’t give it time to take action.

3. Ditch harsh oral hygiene products that can destroy the microbial balance in your mouth

Oral care is super important, but if you use generalized disinfectant products, you’ll kill the bacteria that protect your oral cavity. Stay away from ​​products like chemically laden mouthwashes and detergent-based toothpaste. The ingredients you should avoid in toothpaste and mouthwash are:

  • Alcohol
  • Chlorine dioxide
  • Chlorhexidine
  • Cocamidopropyl betaine
  • Parabens
  • Poloxamer 407
  • Formaldehyde
  • Saccharin

Instead, opt for natural oral health products like our Refreshing & Restorative Mouth Drops. They facilitate the estoration ofthe natural balance of microbes in your mouth, help remineralize tooth decay, and address the root cause of bad breath. You can read more about them in this post.

4. Change your eating habits

Dietary habits have a huge effect on your oral health. Foods that are high in Phytic acid (a substance that harms our teeth’s enamel) or sugary foods will “feed” the bad bacteria and damage our teeth’s protective layer. On the other hand, microbiome-supporting foods promote oral health and a healthy microbiome and ensure that our salivary is rich with essential nutrients. A healthy diet should include anti-inflammatory, alkalizing, and antioxidant-rich foods. The foods that contain these properties are organic fruits and vegetables, soy-based products, and fermented foods (sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir, for example). There is evidence for grass fed animal products, of which moral implications should be weighed, as with all our conscious choices to better ourselves.

5. Try out natural ways for remineralizing your teeth

If going to the dentist is one of your biggest stresses and the sound of the dental drill gives you instant anxiety, you can actually help your body reverse cavities in a completely natural way. You’ve heard it right. With the help of oil pulling—an ancient alternative medical practice that refers to swishing an edible oil—and other beneficial practices, you can reverse cavities. I don’t want to go into details about it now since we’ve covered all about oil pulling (how it works and how to do it) in our post on remineralizing teeth naturally.

Final Thoughts

The oral microbiome is a world on its own, but it needs our support and care if we want to keep these diverse microbial communities in balance. Just think about the aftermath of not caring for your oral health. Besides common dental problems, a state of dysbiosis can cause serious health illnesses like diabetes or cardiovascular dysfunctions.

The influence of the oral microbiome spreads across our whole body and even has an effect on other microbiomes such as the gut microbiome. Taking all of that into consideration, how can we not think about the oral microbiome and do everything in our power to keep it healthy?

I truly hope that this was an eye-opening informational journey for you, just as it was for me when I first learned about the intricacies of the oral microbiome. There’s so much more about oral health that we don’t know, but I must admit that understanding how important our role is in keeping our bodies healthy is quite thrilling. We have the power—so let’s use it!



Dajana Ivkovic
Dajana Ivkovic

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