Humans are not really single organisms, we are really superorganisms, coexisting with our microbiome!
We have three or four microbiomes in our bodies: oral, gut, skin and vaginal. Here we’ll discuss the oral microbiome and its relationship with the gut. We’ll cover some research that reveals how your oral microbiome affects whole-body health.
What is the oral microbiome?
Your mouth is home to the second most diverse community of micro-organisms in your body, after your gut.
In fact, it is home to over 700 species of bacteria that colonize both the hard and soft surfaces of your teeth.
Humans and their microbiomes evolved together over millions of years to create a superorganism, or holobiont, that represents a mostly harmonious symbiotic relationship. We keep them healthy, and they keep us healthy!
How does the oral microbiome get out of balance?
The balance in our oral microbiome can be disturbed by modern-day lifestyles and diets.
This lack of balance is called dysbiosis, and it allows disease-causing bacteria to grow, which can cause problems like caries, gingivitis, and periodontitis.
In particular, our modern consumption of excess refined sugar, as well as consumption of acidic drinks, and even cigarette smoking all impact the oral microbiome.
What happens if my oral microbiome is unbalanced?
Changes to the composition of the microbiome can have large impacts on human health.
There are bacteria in your mouth which convert nitrates in your food into nitrites. These nitrites are then swallowed and get converted into nitric oxide, which has been shown to be highly important to cardiovascular health.
Although the effects of these chemicals on health are still debated, there is some evidence that balance is key to staying healthy.
Even consuming fairly small amounts of nitrates has been shown to have positive effects such as reducing blood pressure and improving heart function. However, the nitric oxide which is produced has also been suggested to have negative effects on cells. It may not have been solved yet, but it’s clear that diet has more of an impact on your health than you might think!
On top of this, it is now accepted that “bad” oral bacteria exist in healthy mouths in low numbers. Oral disease isn’t actually the result of outside infection, but of something causing this bacteria to multiply out of control.
One particular dental issue caused by diet is caries. Carbohydrates in diet can be fermented into acids by oral bacteria, which leads to the demineralization of the tooth enamel. This then causes caries.
This isn’t to say you should stop eating carbs entirely! People have eaten them for centuries without having to much trouble, and they’re a great source of energy. However, sugar, a carbohydrate, is now eaten in way larger quantities than your oral microbiome can deal with, which is why 92% of American adults have had caries.