Oral microbiome - there is more to it than we may think
Our oral microbiome contains the most complex and second-largest collection of microorganisms in the human body, our gut microbiome being the first.
But what exactly is microbiome - the term we seem to be hearing everywhere these days? British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) defines it as the totality of microorganisms, bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and fungi, and their collective genetic material present in the gastrointestinal tract, mouth, skin and vagina.
It is often said that ‘the mouth is the mirror of the body’ that reflects general health and well-being. Historically, doctors have used physical observations of the mouth to check the health status of patients and to look for signs of abnormalities connected with the disease process. This deep knowledge, which, in the past, enabled doctors to nourish their patients’ health from within, is increasingly becoming a new target for enhancing the wider systemic health of humans.
Modern medicine is starting to understand that the health of the oral cavity is not only excluded with various oral diseases but increasingly, makes links with the oral microbiome directly to other systems of the body. It is considered a part of the whole human microbiota, with our mouth acting as a gateway to the rest of the body. It is this gateway that then allows bacteria via inflamed or decayed teeth into the bloodstream to eventually end up in organs such as the heart, brain, gastrointestinal tract or lungs. Digestive conditions, cardiovascular disease, compromised immune function as well as depression and anxiety have all been associated with altered composition of the oral microbiome.
Now let’s take a look at what can be done to improve the quality of oral health:
1. Maintaining a healthy diet that contains plenty of vegetables, healthy protein and healthy fats.
2. Limiting sugar consumption to a minimum - too much sugar in the diet changes the oral pH to become more acidic which damages the teeth and can cause build-up of plaque. It is important to remember that some pathogenic bacteria thrive in an acidic environment.
3. Drinking between 1.5 - 2 litres of water a day in order to keep the mouth hydrated.
4. Brushing and flossing teeth twice daily (morning/evening) are crucial to keep the oral microbiome healthy.
5. Scraping tongue twice daily (morning/evening). This is a very important yet somehow forgotten habit which helps to remove bacteria that are stuck to the tongue. Oftentimes, this clears the tongue surface which can improve the taste of food to a greater degree!
6. Giving up mouthwash. Try thinking of mouthwash as an antibiotic that destroys the oral microbiome. There are numerous homemade mouthwash recipes that can be used instead.
7. Oil pulling - just three minutes daily with coconut oil, has been found to improve and maintain oral health by reducing dental plaque and the total oral bacterial count and by increasing microbial diversity in the mouth.
It is becoming increasingly hard to ignore the fact that our oral health is somehow isolated from the state of our overall health. On the contrary, by promoting the health and diversity of the oral microbiome, we can be sure we are also caring for our overall body and mind health.