The Power of the Oral Microbiome
The power of the oral microbiome lies within the bacterial biofilm coating the surfaces of the oral cavity. These biofilms form an ecosystem responsible for maintaining health in a state of equilibrium.
However, pathogenic microbes can manifest whenever this ecosystem is out of balance, growing out of control and leading to oral and systemic disease. The oral microbiome is crucial to overall health. An unbalanced or dysbiotic oral microbiome can cause both oral and systemic diseases.
The Oral Microbiome
The oral microbiome is crucial to optimal health. It forms biofilms throughout the mouth to create an ecosystem that maintains your health in a state of equilibrium. The variety of bacteria in the oral microbiome includes a balance of symbiotic, interdependent, and pathogenic microorganisms (microbial homeostasis).
With over 2 billion thriving bacteria and 700 known species, your mouth is an extraordinary habitat for microbes to colonize the hard surfaces of the teeth and the soft tissues of the oral mucosa. The bacteria forming the oral microbiome form a semipermeable membrane (biofilm) that performs vital functions to help keep your mouth healthy. The oral microbiome shares space in the human body and helps:
- Transport ionic minerals from the saliva to the surface of teeth and aid in their remineralization
- Carry molecular oxygen to the gums and soft tissue
- Eliminate free radicals and other waste products from the surface of the teeth
- Protect the body from harmful environmental organisms
Unfortunately, traditional dentistry approaches all bacteria as harmful and looks to neutralize the oral microbiome completely, via mouth rinses, antibiotics, and other invasive treatments. However, recent studies have shown that the interdependent and symbiotic populations of bacteria do not cause the body any harm. Keeping these microorganisms balanced is the key to well-being. Your oral cavity provides the ideal conditions for the growth of these microorganisms with its warm, moist, and nutrient-rich environment.
Oral Microbiome and Whole-Body Health
A balanced oral microbiome means an abundance of aerobic bacteria that rely on oxygen to live. They form a thin, protective, clear, and odorless film on and around your teeth. Your gums appear pink and well-oxygenated in this balanced state, and teeth maintain the proper balance of mineralization. However, when the oral microbiome is not in a balanced state, this biofilm becomes thick, sticky, and foul-smelling. You can usually identify it as the off-white plaque seen on your teeth in the morning. Symptoms of an imbalanced oral microbiome include bad breath, bleeding gums, tooth decay, and sometimes even mouth ulcerations and sensitive teeth.
The good news is that Functional Dentists understand the connection between the mouth and body. They are trained to examine and connect your dental conditions with your food, breathing, and lifestyle habits. Experts in the field understand that the mouth is the first point in the digestive process. And this is supported by a healthy microbiome and saliva, which are vital to the body’s ability to digest and absorb nutrients from the food you consume.
Having a healthy oral microbiome can help reduce your risk of many systemic diseases such as:
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Heart Disease
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Adverse Pregnancy Outcomes (e.g., preterm labor, miscarriage, low birth weight)
A Healthy Oral Microbiome is Key to Oral Health
A healthy oral microbiome is key to oral health. It can help prevent or address oral diseases such as cavities, gum disease (gingivitis or periodontitis), oral thrush (candidiasis), bad breath (halitosis), respiratory infections, tonsillitis, and oral cancer.
Maintaining a healthy oral microbiome may require creating good bacteria to create new biofilms to replace those diseased by bad bacteria. New biofilms support the health of teeth and gums, reduce inflammation, and block harmful bacteria from reaching enamel or gum tissue.
Balancing Your Oral Microbiome
The condition of the oral microbiome can directly impact your child’s health and immune system, starting in the womb and extending through adolescence. Since gut and oral microbiomes are connected, start your child’s biome-building routines early.
Here are Dr. Staci’s tips for supporting the oral microbiome:
- Use a Tongue Scraper. Scraping the bacteria from your tongue allows good bacteria a chance to proliferate. Use an actual tongue scraper, not just your toothbrush.
- Floss Daily. Flossing reaches the spaces that a toothbrush cannot reach, minimizing your risk of cavities and gum disease.
- Change toothpaste. Use toothpaste with hydroxyapatite – a non-toxic ingredient that remineralizes teeth better than fluoride. Hydroxyapatite balances your oral microbiome and makes it more difficult for bad bacteria to attach to teeth. If used regularly, brushing breaks up the biofilm to support a healthy oral microbiome.
- Reduce Sugary and Acidic Foods. Pathogenic bacteria (that cause inflammation and infection) overgrow when you eat sugar, especially in an acidic environment. Simply cutting back on your intake of sugary and acidic foods will make a big difference.
- Avoid Too Much Mouthwash/Essential Oils. Alcohol can dry out the mouth, and many antibacterial mouth rinses available these days can kill all the good and bad bacteria in your mouth at once. It’s better to feed the good bacteria in the mouth rather than destroy the whole ecosystem.
- Try Oil Pulling. If you can oil pull, even for a few minutes a day, it will help you reap the benefits of increased hydration, a boosted microbiome, and gentle bacteria removal. In addition, it helps to reduce inflammation in the mouth!
- Chew Oral Probiotics. Gut probiotics help maintain a positive bacterial balance in the digestive system. However, the oral microbiome has different native bacterial strains and needs its own supplement. Oral probiotics and prebiotics help restore healthy bacteria in your mouth (the kind that helps fight oral problems). Oral probiotics are also known for helping reduce the risk of certain respiratory concerns, especially in children.
- Eat Fermented and Nutrient-Dense Foods. Eating fermented foods with natural, healthy bacteria, often high in vitamin K2 (a cavity-fighting nutrient), is a wonderful way to boost your oral microbiome. Fermented foods include sauerkraut, kimchi, pickled beets, probiotic yogurt, and gelato. Fat-soluble vitamins are key to optimal oral health, especially D3, which, if deficient, has been linked to increased cavity risk.
- Breathe Through Your Nose. Breathing through your nose boosts saliva production, which helps to remineralize the teeth while helping to keep the oral pH in a healthy 6-7 range. It also helps to stop dangerous bacteria from attaching to the teeth.