We spend a lot of time talking about the importance of our gut microbiome in Functional Medicine, but have you ever heard of your oral microbiome? The mouth is home to over 700 types of bacteria. In fact, more than half of all human saliva is made up of micro-organisms such as bacteria and fungi which help digest food and protect our teeth from decay. However, when these organisms become imbalanced due to poor oral hygiene or illness, they can cause a variety of problems in the body including cavities, gum disease, halitosis (bad breath), tooth loss, and even stomach ulcers! In this blog post, we will discuss what the oral microbiome is, why it’s important for our overall health, and more!
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WHAT IS THE ORAL MICROBIOME?
The oral cavity has the second largest and diverse microbiota after the gut harboring over 700 species of bacteria. Additionally, oral microbes present incredible diversity of predicted protein functions compared to other parts of the body. Our oral microbiome nurtures numerous microorganisms which include bacteria, fungi, viruses, and protozoa. It has been thought that our oral microbiome begins at birth. There is a lot of research that suggests the genetic makeup and environment babies get exposed to in utero play significant roles in our oral microbiome. It is not clear what the oral microbiome looks like when we are born but there has been research to figure out if it begins at birth or is already established beforehand. Recent studies have reported intrauterine environment colonization, specifically the amniotic fluid, by oral microorganisms, in up to 70% of pregnant women. Before we turn 1, our oral microbial community composition becomes equal to a profile that is similar to that of children. While there is limited research, the introduction to new nutrient sources, breastfeeding vs formula, and tooth eruption in infants are all factors that make our individual oral microbiome so uniquely complex. Similarly, to the gut microbiome that we discussed in our Gut Microbiome blog post, our oral microbiome is influenced by different factors such as age, genetics, and oral hygiene practices along with environmental influences.
WHY OUR ORAL MICROBIOME IS IMPORTANT FOR OUR OVERALL HEALTH?
The oral microbiome is important for several reasons. The importance of our oral microbiome can be seen in how it could have an effect on immune defense and overall health. First, oral bacteria can enter the body to cause systemic diseases such as heart disease and osteoporosis (when oral pathogens like “Porphyromonas gingivalis” enter the bloodstream through an oral infection). Second, the oral microbiome is important for immune defense. The mucous membranes that line our mouths are the first lines of defense against infections and other foreign invaders. When we have a healthy balance in our oral microbiome, it can help us fight off any unwanted pathogens entering the mouth. Third, the oral microbiome is responsible for maintaining good oral hygiene. Finally, because it is one of our first exposure to microbes (even before we are born), maintaining a healthy oral microbiome should be high on everyone’s priority list!
IMPACT ON HEALTH – BEYOND THE MOUTH
The oral microbiome has an impact on health by affecting our immune system, metabolism, body weight, and oral diseases such as cavities. Research suggests that changes in the oral microbiome can cause or exacerbate common diseases such as diabetes and obesity. It’s important to keep a balance within our oral microbiome so that we are not too susceptible to pathogen invasion or unable to fight off pathogen invasion.
When you visit your Primary Care Physician for your routine wellness visit, have you noticed they ask about your oral health? In fact, it is common for them to ask you when was your last dental cleaning was and inquire about your dental health. Why if they are not your dentist? Well, our oral hygiene and subsequently, our oral microbiome impacts our overall health.
• Symbiosis occurs when oral microorganisms (aka bacteria both good and bad) can co-exist effectively within your oral cavity.
• Dysbiosis is when there is a shift in the harmony between oral microorganisms, there is no more balance due to changes within your oral cavity.
This dysbiosis imbalance leads to dental disease but also impacts our overall health.
For example, if you consume a sugary drink at night and do not brush your teeth that can impact the pH level in your mouth. This shift in your oral ecosystem then welcomes acid-producing and acid-tolerant bacteria – plaque, a sticky film of bacteria that forms on teeth – to grow but sacrifices good bacteria.
Our oral hygiene is linked to inflammation in the body. How so? There are over 700 bacterial species in our oral microbiome. When these bacteria live in balance, they are healthy for us. But when there are too many of one or more types of bacteria it can cause inflammation throughout the body which leads to chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer. When we maintain good oral hygiene and therefore support our oral microbiome, research shows that it can help reduce inflammation in the body! Inflammation is not just bad in the body, but it is especially harmful in the mouth. Periodontal diseases have been linked to inflammation biomarkers.
Severe symptoms of periodontal disease such as bleeding and swollen gums, gum recession, and loss of the bone that holds the teeth in place, may be caused by the chronic inflammatory response to the bacterial infection, rather than the bacteria itself. Periodontists, the dentists specially trained in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of gum disease, believe that this inflammatory response to bacteria in the mouth may be the cause behind the periodontal-systemic health link.
What are some ways to optimize your oral microbiome?
-Visit your Dental professionals on a regular basis for routine exams
-Brush and Floss
-Quit using any tobacco products
-Limit sugar intake (sugar feeds bad bacteria)
-Maintain oral hygiene
-Visit your dental hygienist on a regular basis
Maintaining good oral hygiene is critical to our oral microbiome. By taking care of our teeth, we are protecting our teeth which reduces tooth loss which over time, can protect us from developing life-threatening diseases like diabetes or cardiovascular disease. This is because these chronic illnesses result in gum (periodontal) disease, bone loss around our teeth, and systemic inflammation.
Our oral microbiome is incredibly important. In fact, it’s not just our gut-microbiome that keeps us healthy. It turns out, we have a mouth and body connection too! We can’t pick & choose which microorganisms we want in our bodies – they’re pretty much all over the place. It has been shown that the oral microbiome can be altered to cause health problems when not properly managed through oral care routines. On the other hand, it also holds great potential in preventing future illnesses if maintained at proper levels.
What steps are you taking at home to optimize your oral microbiome?
At the Insitute for Human Optimization, my team and I leverage the most cutting-edge advances in genetic testing, nutritional, and functional medicine to help our patients treat the root biological imbalances that cause aging. I believe that a long healthspan – not just a long lifespan – is the most important thing you can cultivate. A long healthspan means you don’t miss out on life as you get older. It means remaining independent and having the vitality to travel and see the world. A long healthspan means that you can be there – in full body and mind – for the people who need you the most and that every day will feel like a gift.
The Institute for Human Optimization provides the most comprehensive, data-driven, personalized approach to wellness. It is:
· Predictive – We use genomics and advanced biomarker testing for risk stratification and empowerment.
· Personalized – We use data-driven health information to curate actionable change for disease mitigation and prevention.
· Preventive – We utilize highly individualized programs tailored to your unique genomic blueprint.
· Participatory – We empower engagement in personal choices, which allows for improved outcomes and enhanced results.
Let’s work together to make a long healthspan your future reality!
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