The importance of having a healthy balance of bacteria in our gut has become a key topic of health and at the forefront of scientific research. It’s definitely a key area of interest of mine. However, having a healthy balance of bacteria in the mouth is just as important in maintaining good general health, as the mouth acts as a direct portal to other parts of our body.
Firstly, our mouth and the gut are intimately connected.
Fact: We swallow 1 trillion bacteria everyday (Segata et al. 2012)
This means we are directly feeding these microbes to our gastrointestinal tract, making our gut flora largely influenced by the flora in our mouth. Research has shown that 45% of the microbes in the mouth are the same as the gut.
Furthermore, everything that we put into our mouths affects this flora, ultimately influencing not just the composition of bacteria in our gut, but all of our other body systems. Let me explain further.
Cavities, plaque and bleeding gums are a sign of disrupted balance to this bacterial flora which is termed dysbiosis. When dysbiosis occurs, there is an overgrowth of ‘bad bacteria’. These bad bacteria start to form colonies called biofilms, where the bacteria start to group together and attach to surfaces such as our teeth. This allows them to them to hide and protect themselves from our immune system and continue to grow.
In the mouth, biofilms manifest as plaque build-up. The problem with these biofilms, aside from causing bad breath and an unattractive smile, is that the bacteria start to release acids. This acid causes tooth decay, cavities and inflammation of the gums, known as gingivitis. If left to continue to build up over time, the inflammation and deterioration of the teeth becomes worse leading to periodontal disease.
The Mouth-Gut-Systemic Connection
Chronic inflammation and decay means that these communities of bacteria are growing deeper into and away from the mouth, eventually spreading to other parts of the body. This is either via direct access to the blood stream through the gums or down the gastrointestinal tract. A poor diet, medication use, gluten, stress and a number of other lifestyle and dietary factors can cause the gut to become leaky, thus giving these bacteria direct entry into our internal environment. As these bacteria continue to spread through the body, they continue to cause inflammation systemically. Chronic inflammation is the driver of disease. A number of studies have shown that there is a strong association between periodontal disease and chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, respiratory disease and cancer.
The evidence is loud and clear that maintaining good oral health with a focus on achieving a healthy balance of good and bad bacteria is vital in disease prevention. Listed below are my top tips to maintaining a healthy mouth flora and preventing chronic disease conditions.
- Avoid using antibacterial mouthwash as these not only kill the bad bacteria, but the good bugs, much like the effects of antibiotics on the gut!
- Maintain good dental hygiene by regularly brushing, flossing and visiting the dentist
- Drink green tea regularly and give it a good swish around the mouth before gulping down. Green tea contains compounds called polyphenols which prevent the growth of harmful bacteria by changing the pH whilst also reducing and preventing plaque build-up and inflammation. Many studies have shown green tea to be highly effective!
- Add oil pulling to your morning and night teeth brushing/flossing ritual. This involves putting ½-1 tablespoon of coconut oil in the mouth and swishing it around for about 15-20 minutes whilst getting dressed or ready for bed. Saliva will start drawing into your mouth, whilst toxins are being drawn out. Furthermore, the lauric acid in the coconut oil acts as a potent antimicrobial against the bad bacteria.
- Chew on lots of plant foods such as green leafy vegies. I suggest 5 handfuls of vegies a day. This feeds the beneficial bacteria, allowing them to thrive so they aren’t out numbered by the bad bugs.
- Avoid refined sugars such as lollies, soft drinks and commercial condiments like tomato and BBQ sauce. The sugar not only feed the bad bacteria but it also increases the acidity of the mouth, further creating a desirable environment for the bad bacteria to grow.
- Ensure you have a healthy saliva flow. Saliva plays a number of key rolls in maintaining oral health such as diluting and eliminating sugars, buffers the acidity and has antimicrobial action.
Some supporting studies for further light reading:
- Effect of coconut oil in plaque related gingivitis
- The oral microbiome diversity and its relation to human diseases.
- Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease caused by periodontal pathogens