It is commonly known that we host a variety of bacteria in our gut, called the microbiome. These bacteria can influence many things in our body, such as how we digest our food, what foods we crave, as well as our mental health and even our weight (just to name a few). Did you know that we also have a microbiome in our mouth? This is known as the oral microbiome.
Scientists have detected at least 700 different species of bacteria in the oral microbiome! Of these, 54% are named species. Research is ongoing into the other species. The microbiome differs in different people and researchers have found an average of 296 species in individual people. (1)
Salvia is important as it helps to wash away foods and acids produced by some of the oral microbiome. Some medications such as decongestants, antihistamines, painkillers, diuretics, and antidepressants can reduce saliva production, in turn affecting oral health. (2)
Oral Health Diseases
As the mouth is the entry point for both our digestive and respiratory systems, the bacteria there can affect many other parts of the body. Good oral health is important to reduce diseases in the mouth as well as other diseases in the body. According to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (3), these diseases include:
- Cavities (Tooth Decay)
Tooth decay is caused by the acid-producing bacteria in the mouth breaking down the enamel on the teeth, especially around the gums and the chewing surfaces of the teeth. Eating and drinking foods high in sugar and carbohydrates cause these bacteria to produce these detrimental acids. (3) The Australian government reports that 1 in 4 primary aged children have untreated tooth decay. (4)
- Periodontal (Gum) Disease
Periodontal disease affects the tissues that support and surround the tooth. It usually manifests as swollen and bleeding gums, pain and sometimes bad breath. (3) Main causes are poor oral hygiene, weakened immune system and tobacco use (3,5)
- Oral Cancer
Oral cancer includes cancers of the lip and other parts of the mouth. High risk factors include cigarette, cigar or pipe smoking, use of smokeless tobacco, and excessive use of alcohol. (5)
Overall/Systemic Health Diseases
There is research linking oral diseases to systemic disease (disease that affects the whole body). These include:
- Cardiovascular disease
Research indicates that periodontal disease is a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases such as atherosclerosis, stroke and myocardial infarction (heart attack). (6)
Endocarditis is an infection in the heart valves or walls of the heart. It occurs when bacteria from the mouth or other parts of the body move through the bloodstream and into the heart. Research shows that bacterial infections in the mouth following dental procedures can lead to endocarditis. (6)
Pneumonia is an infection in the lungs. It’s most common cause is aspiration (breathing in) of the oral bacteria into the lungs and the immune system is unable to put its defences into place. (6)
- Low Birth Weight
Pregnancy can affect oral health. Changes in hormones during pregnancy can lead to a condition called pregnancy gingivitis. Oral infections create a higher risk of babies with a lower birth weight. Low birth weight infants are less likely to survive the neonatal period than normal birth weight infants. Low birth weight babies are more at risk of developing a range of health issues than normal birth weight babies. (6)
Researchers have studied the relationship between diabetes and periodontal disease and found that diabetes is a severe risk factor for periodontal disease. More research is being conducted on the reverse – that periodontal disease increases the risk of diabetes. (6)
Tips for Oral Health
The World Health Organisation promotes prevention of oral diseases by public health interventions such as:
- promoting a well-balanced diet low in sugars and high in fruit and vegetables, and favouring water as the main drink;
- stopping use of all forms of tobacco;
- reducing alcohol consumption; and
- encouraging use of protective equipment when doing sports and travelling on bicycles and motorcycles (to reduce the risk of facial injuries). (5)
There are things that you can do to protect your own oral health. These include:
- Brushing your teeth at least twice a day with a soft-bristled brush using fluoride toothpaste.
- Floss daily.
- Use mouthwash to remove food particles left after brushing and flossing.
- Eat a healthy diet and limit food with added sugars.
- Replace your toothbrush every three months or sooner if bristles are splayed or worn.
- Schedule regular dental checkups and cleanings.
- Avoid tobacco use. (1)
The oral microbiome is just as vital to systemic health as it is to oral health. Good oral health is important to prevent infections and diseases as well as systemic diseases.
- Kilian M eta la, 2016, ‘The Oral Microbiome – an update for oral healthcare professionals’, British Dental Journal, 221 pp657-666, viewed on 25 July 2021, https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/dental/art-20047475
- Mayo Clinic, 2019, ‘Oral Health: A window to your overall health’, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, viewed on 25 July 2021, https://www.nature.com/articles/sj.bdj.2016.865
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020, ‘Oral Health Conditions’, US Department of Health & Human Services, viewed on 25 July 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/oralhealth/conditions/index.html
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2017, ‘Dental and Oral Health’, Australian Government, viewed on 25 July 2021, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports-data/health-conditions-disability-deaths/dental-oral-health/overview
- WHO, 2020, ‘Oral Health’, World Health Organisation, viewed on 25 July 2021, https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/oral-health
- Li X et al, 2000, ‘Systemic Diseases Caused by Oral Infection’, Clinical Microbiology Reviews, 13 (4): 547-558, viewed on 25 July, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC88948/