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Your oral health could be the missing piece to improving your gut health. Keep reading to learn why your oral health is so important.
Oral health is so much more than brushing and flossing twice a day.
Your mouth, much like your gut, is home to a host of beneficial bacteria that work to keep it healthy and balanced.
And your mouth is a gateway to your gut.
Everything in your gut, whether that’s food or bacteria, had to pass through your mouth first to get there.
So when your oral health is suffering, it’s likely that your gut health will be less than stellar as well.
And, if you’ve been dealing with unexplained gut symptoms, it might be a good idea to take a look at your oral health. Evaluating the health of your mouth might help you find a root cause for the issues in your gut.
In this article, you’ll learn about all things oral health and how it can impact your gut and beyond. Plus I’ll share some simple steps you can take to improve the health of your mouth.
If you’re ready to boost the health of your mouth with some tips you might not get at your dentist’s office, let’s go!
What is the Oral Microbiome?
The oral microbiome is very similar to your gut microbiome. It’s a collection of bacteria and other microorganisms that affect the health of that system and the rest of the body.
There are around several hundred different species of bacteria that make up your oral microbiome. And they all play various roles in keeping everything from your gums to the surfaces of your teeth healthy.
Just as the gut microbiome affects gut health, your oral microbiome regulates your oral health.
Some conditions related to an imbalance of the oral microbiome are tooth decay, gingivitis, and oral thrush.
And the effects of these oral conditions don’t stop in the mouth. When you swallow you introduce thousands of bacteria to the rest of your digestive tract.
So any imbalance in your oral microbiome has a chance of making its way to your gut. Once there, these bacteria can impact the delicate balance of bacteria there as well.
In fact, studies show a clear link between oral disease and systemic disease. And it’s likely that the oral microbiome is responsible for this connection.
Taking care of your oral health will get you more than a pearly white smile. Improving your oral health actually supports the health of the rest of your body!
How the Oral Microbiome Impacts the Gut Microbiome
The oral and gut microbiomes share about 45% of the same species of bacteria.
This shows that the bacteria in our oral microbiome often also colonize in the gut.
The bacterial translocation that occurs between the mouth and the gut is, in general, not a negative thing. But when there is a bacterial imbalance in the mouth, it can result in an imbalance in gut bacteria too.
If an oral microbiome imbalance goes untreated, it could lead to chronic gut dysbiosis and associated symptoms.
Digestive symptoms that seem to have no digestive root could stem from issues in your mouth.
Taking a closer look at your oral health could help identify the root cause of your gut troubles.
Oral Health and H. pylori Infections
H. pylori is a bacteria that can infect the lining of the stomach and cause a host of digestive health issues.
Conditions associated with an H. pylori infection include:
- acid reflux
- stomach ulcers
- stomach cancer
Most treatment plans for this infection involve focusing on the stomach. Antibiotics are often given to help remove the bacterial infection from that area of the digestive tract.
Unfortunately, reinfection with H. pylori is common and there’s one main reason why.
H. pylori is often found in higher quantities in the mouth than in the stomach of an infected person.
This means that treating the infection in the stomach may not be enough to eradicate this bacteria.
It’s possible that the bacteria in your mouth is making it’s way to the gut from teeth cleanings, or even something called “leaky mouth.”
If you’re struggling with H. pylori, or any gut infection for that matter, taking a closer look at your oral health could be the missing piece.
Oral Health and Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) covers a collection of Autoimmune Diseases focused in the large intestine.
And like all autoimmune conditions, the main driver behind IBD is chronic inflammation.
There are a host of factors that can lead to chronic inflammation and IBD. But recent research has brought to light the connection between these conditions and your oral health.
Many patients with IBD also deal with oral symptoms like dry mouth, mouth ulcers, and gum inflammation and bleeding known as gingivitis.
And an oral bacterial imbalance may be the root cause of these associated symptoms.
Research shows that people with IBD have higher amounts of certain pathogenic bacteria in their mouths than people without IBD.
Oral health is not the only factor behind the development of IBD. But if you are struggling with IBD, improving your oral health could result in an improvement of those symptoms as well.
Other Areas Affected by Oral Health
While the gut is the main organ system affected by our oral health, it’s definitely not the only one.
When our oral health suffers, the rest of our body can feel it too.
Here are a few other areas that can be affected by less than stellar oral health.
You may have heard of the brain-gut connection as it applies to your stomach and intestinal health. But that connection exists when it comes to oral health as well.
The health of your oral microbiome can impact our brain and nervous system health.
Recently, a review of over 20 studies concluded that there is an association between oral health and learning, memory, attention, and brain function in old age.
This means that when your oral health declines, you’re likely to also see a decline in your memory and brain function.
Also, a groundbreaking study released in 2019 showed a causative link (not just a correlation) between the bacteria responsible for gum disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
The relationship between these bacteria and Alzheimer’s was due to the inflammation brought about by negative microbiome shifts, as well as a genetic predisposition for the disease.
Researchers also found a link between poor dental health and anxiety/depression.
Of course, because you have tooth pain or bleeding gums it doesn’t mean you’re going to get Alzheimer’s or suffer from anxiety.
But, we can’t ignore the obvious link between our oral microbiome health and the health of our brain. It’s one more reason to focus on your oral hygiene!
The Endocrine System
The oral microbiome is likely behind several endocrine-related health conditions.
One example of this interaction between the endocrine system and the oral microbiome is in diabetes.
People with diabetes have drastically different oral microbiomes than non-diabetics. We can’t be certain which happened first – the diagnosis of diabetes or the shift in the oral bacteria. But there is definitely a connection.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is also linked to changes in the oral microbiome.
In one pilot study, patients with PCOS showed a reduced salivary relative abundance of Actinobacteria compared to controls. Another study found that in women with PCOS, inflammation-inducing bacterial strains were higher than healthy women, particularly in the case of gingivitis.
We can’t predict whether you’ll develop diabetes or PCOS solely based on your oral health. But the health of your mouth does seem to play a role in these conditions.
How to Support the Health of Your Oral Microbiome
Now that we know how important the health of our oral microbiome is to the health of the rest of our body, let’s discuss how to take care of it!
Supporting your oral health and microbiome goes beyond brushing your teeth every day.
For some people, improving their oral health might need a few extra steps. But, if putting a little extra care into the health of your mouth keeps your entire body healthy, it may be worth the effort.
Here are a few ways to care for your oral health (that your dentist might not have told you).
Try Mouth Taping
A dry mouth is the perfect breeding ground for unfavorable bacteria that can impact your oral microbiome.
For most of us, we’re able to keep out mouths moist during the day because our mouths stay closed. But at night is where we can struggle with that dry, scratchy feeling. This happens when we’re breathing through our mouth, not our nose.
One solution to dry mouth at night is to try out mouth taping. If you tape your mouth shut, you won’t be able to breathe out of it, and it won’t get dry!
It can take some time to get used to breathing through your nose while you sleep.
But mouth taping can be beneficial for your oral health AND can help you sleep more soundly.
And no, you don’t have to use household tape to keep your mouth shut while you sleep. Here’s a brand of mouth tape that I recommend.
Eat More Prebiotic Fibers
I can’t talk about supporting your microbiome without mentioning prebiotic fibers.
These bacteria-feeding fibers found mainly in vegetables are the food that supports the health of your gut and oral bacteria.
Getting a few servings of these prebiotic fiber-containing foods will help to keep ALL areas of your microbiome healthy and thriving.
Some great prebiotic fiber-filled foods include:
- Dandelion greens
- Jerusalem artichokes
- Green bananas
You don’t need to go crazy with your prebiotic fiber intake to support your oral microbiome. Focus on including a few servings a day of these foods and you’ll be giving your friendly bacteria all the support they need. Or enjoy a prebiotic-containing beverage like Gut Power Drinks! (Use the code LAURA for 15% off!)
Brush and Floss Regularly
Ok, your dentist will probably tell you to make sure you’re brushing and flossing every day. But they’re not wrong!
Brushing and flossing is the first and most important step to maintaining good oral hygiene and a healthy oral microbiome.
Dental plaque is actually composed partially of bacterial biofilms. These biofilms build up to protect the bacteria that live in your mouth.
Brushing and breaking those biofilms down regularly helps your oral microbiome stays healthy. And without regular care, your oral microbiome can get overgrown with pathogens.
Ditch the Conventional Mouthwash
Mouthwash that says it can kill “up to 99.9%” of bacteria sounds like a great way to keep your mouth fresh and healthy.
But, using a conventional mouthwash every day is comparable to using antibiotics on a regular basis.
Mouthwash is non-selective, meaning it not only kills the bad bacteria but the good ones as well.
And when it comes to maintaining a healthy oral microbiome, this isn’t necessarily a good thing.
Instead of using a kill-everything approach with conventional mouthwash, try oil pulling!
In oil pulling, you swish around a mouthful of coconut oil for about 20 minutes a day. This practice can help promote microbial diversity and decrease inflammation in your mouth.
It might take some time to get used to swishing your mouth with coconut oil. But exchanging your conventional mouthwash for this natural method may improve the health of your oral microbiome.
If you prefer a traditional mouthwash, you can try an aloe-vera based product that doesn’t contain chlorhexidine or alcohol.
The Bottom Line on Oral Health and Gut Health
Oral health goes beyond just brushing and flossing. Our mouth is home to a community of beneficial bacteria that help to regulate our oral health, like the ones in our gut regulate our gut health.
And because our mouth is the entryway to our gut, our oral health and microbiome can impact the health of the rest of our digestive tract.
If you’ve been suffering from gut symptoms that don’t yet have a root cause, your oral health could be a factor. Be sure to work with a professional to help you get to the root of your oral and gut health concerns!
Have you seen any improvements in your gut health when you’ve started focusing on your oral health? Are you going to try any of my oral health suggestions in this article? Share your thoughts in the comments!
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