Ever thought about your oral microbiome? Why it is a key element of health

By now I’m sure you’ve heard of the importance of the gut microbiome. That we have billions of bacteria in our digestive tract that play a vital role in our health. The bacteria in our intestinal tract has been linked to mental health, weight gain and chronic disease, to name a few. Many treatments that focus on gut health is focused on working with/against these microbes. There has been a lot of talk around how we look after this bacteria. For example consuming prebiotic foods (to feed the bacteria) and probiotics foods (to seed the bacteria). But when talking about the importance of looking after this bacteria we often forget about the start of the digestive tract, the mouth. Many people spend little time thinking about their oral microbiome, let alone the role it plays in their health. Let me explain…

The mouth is home to the second most diverse microbial community in the body.

It hosts over 700 species of bacteria that colonises the tongue, hard palate, teeth, tonsils, gums and below gums. The membrane that lines the oral cavity can be very porous, meaning that when damaged, microbes can easily penetrate this barrier and enter the bloodstream. Inflammation and infection in the mouth easily damages this lining and can trigger an immune response.  In the Human Microbiome Project they found microbes found in the mouth also being found in the colon. There are many links between oral and general health, the role of the oral microbiome is just one example of this. It is a reminder that when addressing gut issues (and issues related to the gut), we also need to be considering the health of the mouth.

Listen: Dr. Ron Ehrlich interviews Dr. Lewis Ehrlich. Post continues after audio.

Are you feeding your friends or foes?

The bacteria species in the mouth have their own protective biofilm, for example plaque. When you visit the dentist this is the very thing they are working to remove from the teeth and gums. By removing the plaque we are able to disrupt these communities and keep the bacteria in the mouth under control. Additionally brushing and flossing plays an important role in looking after these bacterial communities.

Another important element in managing the bacteria in the mouth is the diet. The food we eat will literally feed our friends or our foes. Dentists have spoken for a long time about the role of sugar in causing cavities. We now know that sugar affects the bacteria in the mouth which then causes an imbalance and changing the acid/base balance. The change in this balance is then what contributes to the development of cavities. We also know that a high sugar diet causes an imbalance further down the digestive tract in the small intestine and colon. This is just one example where diet is effecting the balance of bacteria in our body.

This is just an introduction to the oral microbiome, I go into more detail about this topic in a number of my talks. I wanted to write this post as a reminder of the role that oral health plays in general health. This is a topic I will be expanding on in the future.