DISCLOSURE: Noelle Copeland RDH is an Oral Care Specialist and Dental Consultant who provides content for Brilliant Oral Care and Baby Buddy.
We recently had an emergency in my house, where a family member was rushed by ambulance to the ER with debilitating upper abdominal pain. The pain was so severe that it seemed absolute that some sort of organ or other internal entity was rupturing or exploding. It was so extreme, and so intense, that I thought they were having a heart attack. Come to find out, the culprit was a perforated gut lining, due to a recent course of antibiotics for a dog bite injury, in conjunction with several doses of Ibuprofen and the stresses of achieving a work/life balance as the cherry on top of the body bomb cake.
Literally, within a week… injury, trauma, stress, and prescribed drugs, single-handedly destroyed the gut microbiome so fast, it became a medical emergency. The health of the gut is the foundation for the health of the rest of the body. If your gut is sick, then you are sick. If the gut is weak, then you are weak. It’s that simple, but yet that complex. The gut is often called the second brain, because of the delicate way the microbiome talks to the rest of the body. A lack of health in the microbiome plays a key role in the progression and implementation of many diseases.
But guess what? The gut is not the only place where a delicate microbiome exists! The oral microbiome of the mouth is a part of the microbiome of the gut. Did you know that digestion starts in your mouth? The moment you start chewing food, your body releases digestive enzymes through your saliva that begin the process of breaking down your food as you chew. So what happens if you have a dry mouth and aren’t producing enough saliva?
You may accomplish getting food down with water or other liquids but you will lack the initial digestive chemicals that start in the mouth. So the digestion process slows down or becomes incomplete. This can start a cascade of events that not only affects your gut health but oral health as well. It’s not just a dry mouth that affects the oral microbiome either, think about all the medications people take and the side effects they have, like an antibiotic, think about highly processed foods and food with lots of added sugar, or the side effects of therapies like chemotherapy or radiation therapy, you can even consider the most basic disruptor of the oral microbiome and that is inadequate dental hygiene! Now, maybe you can start to see the connections!
What Is A Microbiome?
The most simple explanation is that a microbiome is a community of different microorganisms, living together in a sustaining habitat. It’s almost like the inside of our body is a bustling city with millions of people (cells, microorganisms, blood plasma, bacteria, fungi, lymph, interstitial fluid, etc.) all contributing to the balance of a greater conglomerate system. Sometimes small parts of the community experience hardships that affect how the community functions. This is where the other people in the city come together to fill in and keep the city running smoothly. However, if the damaged community does not recover, the city as a whole and the rest of its communities will start to suffer, as they not only hold onto their specific function but strain to hold up the function of the damaged community.
“The health of the body is only as strong as its weakest part.”
According to Harvard’s T.H.Chan School of Public Health and the nutrition source on the microbiome, the microbiome “is labeled a supporting organ because it plays so many key roles in promoting the smooth daily operations of the human body. Each person has a unique network of microbiota that is originally determined by one’s DNA. A person is first exposed to microorganisms as an infant, during delivery in the birth canal, and through the mother’s breast milk. Exactly which microorganisms the infant is exposed to depends solely on the species found in the mother. Later on, environmental exposures and diet can change one’s microbiome to be either beneficial to health or place one at greater risk for disease.
So how many microbiomes do we have? According to research, we have 4 human microbiomes:
- The digestive tract or gut microbiome.
- The oral microbiome, which includes the nose.
- The skin microbiome.
- The urogenital microbiome.
The Oral Microbiome
If the oral microbiome can affect all the other systems in the body, I think we should take a look at some stats about this ecosystem.
- The mouth is a micro-environment host, it hosts the tongue, palate, teeth, gums, and tissues in separate micro-environments.
- Different bacterial populations exist within each micro-environment.
- The bacterial micro-environment, and its balance in the mouth, is the second most diverse microbiome in the body.
- The oral environment hosts over 6 billion bacteria, including 700 different types of bacterial species.
- When an imbalance occurs in the mouth between the colonies, this can lead to inflammation, disease, and illnesses. Thrush, Cavities, Decay, Gingivitis, and Periodontitis are all examples.
- When the oral microbiome is imbalanced it also affects the gut microbiome, potentially altering the immune response and directly leading to other systemic diseases.
- The same oral bacteria that is responsible for the proliferation of periodontitis in the mouth, has been found in the arterial plaques of cardiovascular patients.
- According to Cass Nelson Dooley, MS, an ethnopharmacologist:
“Every time you swallow, you are seeding your gastrointestinal tract with bacteria, fungi, and viruses from your mouth—140 billion per day, to be exact. That’s a conclusion that 45% of the bacteria in your mouth, will also be found in your gut”
Why Does It Matter That Oral Bacteria Can Travel Throughout The Rest of The Body?
- Dysbiosis- An imbalance of the microbiome that leads to inflammation and disease.
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD gut dysbiosis) patients have higher amounts of Streptococcus, Prevotella, Neisseria, Haemophilus, Veilonella, and Gemella bacterial species in their oral environments and IBD patients also frequently struggle with oral issues like chronic inflammation, dry mouth, and recurrent ulcers.
- The Immune system is mostly found within the GI tract, it’s the foundation and function of everything. So if there is dysbiosis within the gut, the immune system stalls at working in full capacity. And since immunity starts in your mouth, these two systems feed off the health of one another.
- Leaky Gut and Leaky Mouth- An imbalance in the gut can lead to open pathways within the digestive walls that allow GI fluids to leak into the circulatory system causing an immune and inflammatory response, we call this leaky gut! Leaky Mouth is the same concept, just within the mouth. When the oral microbiome is imbalanced, the tissues become more permeable, allowing pathogenic oral bacteria a pathway to leak directly past the gums and into the circulatory system. This is one of the reasons why expectant mothers who have chronic periodontitis or other oral infections are at a higher risk of delivering a preterm, low birth weight baby. Her leaky gums allow pathogenic oral bacteria to enter her circulatory system, crossing the placenta during gestation, directly affecting the growth and development of the baby due to an inflammatory response initiated by the bacteria entering the placenta.
- A healthy gut is vital to your overall risk assessment for diseases of the brain and nervous system. This includes Anxiety, Depression, Alzheimer’s, Multiple Sclerosis, and others.
The oral microbiome and its impact on every other system in the body is an exciting and ever-expanding field of research. We now know that the human body’s microbiome ecosystems are crucial to optimum health and need to systemically host a balanced state of equilibrium. When imbalances do occur, dysbiosis sets in, and with that comes inflammation, and it has been said “The root of all disease is, inflammation.” All inflammation is caused by extreme environments, toxicity, nutritional deficiencies, and genetic predispositions that make people vulnerable to disease expression and mutations.
I don’t know about you, but I never realized that all the micro-ecosystems in my mouth were helping to feed and distribute bacteria to the other microbiomes in my body! I understood that what I ate affected my body and that I needed a healthy gut for optimum health. I even felt quite confident in my knowledge of how to best support a healthy gut through diet and lifestyle. But I never considered that what I ate or drank was also supporting the health of the microbiome colony in my mouth, so that when those oral microbes get swallowed and digested, they can continue to support the gut microbiome! Fascinating!
If you want to learn more about your microbiomes, start by getting a healthy gut through diet and supplements, and if you need help, seek out a nutritionist for additional support. Of course, the best place to learn about your oral microbiome is going to be with your dentist, so make that a regular part of your overall health routine.
Be sure to check out our selection of toothbrushes for individuals with special needs. This includes our silicone toothbrushes that make oral care easy to start. Our DINOSAUR, PENGUIN, and DUCK character sonic toothbrushes make oral care fun. And our special soft toothbrush with our most extensive bristle count has the softest texture brush that we offer.
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Noelle Copeland RDH is an Oral Care Specialist and Dental Consultant who provides content for Brilliant Oral Care and Baby Buddy.