Oral Microbiome 101

Our mouths aren’t just made up of gums, teeth, and a tongue. They’re also made up of a unique community of microbes (bacteria, fungi, and viruses) – otherwise known as our oral microbiome. This microbiome produces vitamins, breaks down foods, fights infections, and more. Believe it or not, our mouths rely on this microbiome to remain balanced so that we can stay healthy. When our microbiome becomes unbalanced, it can wreak havoc on our overall health. 

What exactly does our oral microbiome do and what is its role in our overall health? Here’s everything you need to know. 

What is the Oral Microbiome?

Our scientific community is constantly making new discoveries and advancements. One of the most recent and insightful discoveries is of the gut microbiome, which is the accumulation of bacteria, fungi, and viruses within each of our digestive tracts. The gut microbiome affects your overall health in many different ways. 

Just as with the gut microbiome, we also each have a unique oral microbiome. There are over 700 species of bacteria, fungi, and viruses here, some preferring to live on the teeth, gums, inner cheeks, tongue or soft palate. When you were born, your mouth was sterile, but helpful bacteria from the environment quickly moved in and set up shop.

How It Affects Your Health

The oral microbiome has a much larger impact on your overall health than you may expect. When there’s an unbalance in your microbiome, harmful species can grow and cause disease. And, just as an unhealthy mouth can be a cause of disease, it can also reflect it. In fact, it’s estimated that about 97% of diseases start in the mouth. 

Here are some connections between your mouth bacteria and your overall health:

  • Gastrointestinal tract: Poor oral health from an unhealthy oral microbiome may contribute to inflammatory bowel disease, gut-related cancers and stomach ulcers.
  • Immune system: Your oral microbiome is your first defense against pathogens. Poor oral health may contribute to arthritis and other conditions.
  • Cardiovascular health: Heart disease may be connected to your oral microbiome, and both are related to inflammation.
  • Gut-brain health: The oral microbiome supports the health of your gut bacteria, which in turn affects your brain.
  • Endocrine system: Your hormones can be affected by your oral microbiome.
  • Nitric oxide: Your body needs nitric oxide, but when your oral microbiome is unhealthy, it limits how much your body will produce.  

Your oral microbiome has big affects on your body, so giving it the attention it needs is the best way to ensure good oral and overall health. 

You can even test your own microbiome through your saliva!  Bristle is a saliva testing tool that can give us risk scores for decay, periodontal disease, and bad breath!  It gives us a breakdown of any bacterial species detected and how many of each there are!

You can order a test for 15% off at www.bristlehealth.com with code BLOOM15.

Support Your Oral Microbiome

The health of your oral microbiome will naturally decrease with age, so it is very important that you make an effort to support it throughout your life, so it is as strong as possible in old age. How do you do that?

  • Diet changes: Eating less sugar can help keep your oral microbiome healthy while also reducing inflammation across your body. You should also eat enough healthy fat and drink enough water.
  • Nose breathing: Breathing through your mouth dries it and can hurt the bacteria. Focus on breathing through your nose during the day and consider taping your mouth at night to encourage nose breathing, if this is safe for you.
  • Brushing and flossing: Regular brushing and flossing will keep your mouth a healthy place for your bacteria. Brush twice daily and floss once daily.
  • Tongue cleaning: Tongue scraping can remove overgrowths of bacteria on the tongue and also help resolve bad breath.
  • Regular dental cleaning: Your dentist can help you keep your mouth clean and healthy with regular cleanings.
  • Stop using mouthwash: Alcohol-based mouthwash can kill the good bacteria in your oral microbiome along with the bad bacteria, which can cause more long-term damage.

Let’s Talk About Your Oral Microbiome

Dentists and physicians are working together to learn more about the oral microbiome so that you can live a longer, healthier life. We’re just now starting to glimpse the incredible connection between the mouth and overall health. And, as dentists, we’re on the front line to keep track of your overall health and catch signs that something is not right. That’s why it’s important to take care of your oral health and also to see your dentist frequently.  

Schedule your next appointment with Dr. Elizabeth Turner here and she’ll get to know you and evaluate your unique needs.

To learn more about our General Dentistry Services, visit this page here.


About the Author

Dr. Elizabeth Turner is a whole-health, family dentist in Lakewood, CO who provides general, restorative, and cosmetic dental care. She focuses on the mouth-body connection and helps her patients smile confidently, breathe clearer, and live healthier lives. 

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