Did you know you have good bacteria in your mouth? As an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, I work inside the oral cavity on a daily basis performing surgery involving the teeth, jaw bones and oral soft tissues, so I have a pretty good relationship with this bacteria, or oral microbiome. In this article we’ll define the oral microbiome, and talk about why it’s important for your overall health.
The Oral Microbiome 101
The oral cavity is the beginning of the gastrointestinal (or GI) tract. As such, it’s not surprising it has the second largest and most diverse microbiome after the gut, with over 700 species of bacteria.
But first, what is a “microbiome”? In the simplest terms, the microbiome is the name given to the large number of micro-organisms that naturally live within our body. The term oral microbiome, or mouth microbiome, pertains to those organisms normally found in the oral cavity and throat or pharynx. Now at first pass, the thought of hundreds of bacteria in the mouth might be off-putting, however these bacteria are our friends, and help to protect our body from bacterial, viral and fungal invaders. (Check out our complete guide to dental probiotics).
The development of an individual’s microbiome begins at birth, from the moment an infant is introduced to nutrition and the environment. As we grow we continue to develop our core resident microbiome, which is important in everyday protection from disease-causing organisms. The microbiome works together with our body to maintain a check and balance type relationship by not allowing pathogenic organisms to adhere to the oral mucosa and cause disease. In other words, it helps the good oral cavity bacteria thrive, and protects against harmful bacteria.
The GI or gut microbiome has become a hot button topic in recent years, with many people and doctors focusing on eating foods that support a healthy and strong gut to prevent disease, infection and upset stomach or diarrhea. Will the oral microbiome be in the next frontier of health topics? I believe this is a high probability.
Signs of Imbalance
Signs of an unbalanced microbiome include, pain, swelling, bleeding/redness and warmth—the cardinal signs of infection. This alerts us that our body’s defenses are down, and the microbiome may be out of whack, leading to the progression and development of oral disease or infection.
What to Avoid
In oral health products, avoid abrasives and sugars— specifically saccharin, xylitol is better— chlorine dioxide, which is industrial bleach, and surfactants such as sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and polypropylene glycol (PPG). Avoid acidic or heavily processed foods that tend to break down the body’s natural defenses. Avoid alcohol, both in over consumption and in oral care products (mouthwash) — as this can cause dry mouth, electrolyte imbalances, and liver damage. Avoid smoking to prevent development of oral and lung cancer, bleeding disorders and lung disease.
How to Keep Your Oral Microbiome Healthy
We all want to keep our bodies healthy and it starts with your mouth. Wondering about the best food for healthy teeth and a healthy balance of mouth bacteria? Make sure you’re eating a balanced diet that includes crunchy fruits and vegetables and lean protein. Eat over-processed foods sparingly. Take daily vitamins including vitamins C, D, E and K, magnesium, calcium and zinc. And of course practice oral hygiene twice a day. I recommend adding Better & Better Energy and Immunity toothpastes into your daily routine, as they’re free of harmful ingredients, and contain essential vitamins. These vitamins are absorbed through the tissues of the mouth when brushing, providing an additional boost for your overall health.
So you can see how important it is to be mindful of everything we put in our mouths — not just the products we consume. As an OMF surgeon, I see the damage we do to our mouths everyday. The good news is there are practices we can perform daily to prevent further harm, and products like vitamin-infused toothpastes that can help bolster our oral health. Have I convinced you that the mouth is the gateway to your overall health yet? Stick around!
Dr. Jaclyn Tomsic, MD, DMD, FACS, is a board-certified Oral and maxillofacial surgeon (OMF) based out of Cleveland, OH. OMF involves extensive dental and medical education and training to achieve surgical expertise and an unparalleled understanding of esthetics. Being an OMF surgeon qualifies Dr. Tomsic to treat conditions, defects, injuries, and esthetic aspects of the mouth, teeth, jaw, and face. Learn more about Dr. Jacci on her website, and follow her on Instagram at @DoctorJacci.