A healthy mouth isn’t just about keeping your teeth and gums strong. The mouth is an ecosystem that hosts a complex community of microorganisms. Think of it like a bustling city made up of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and more living together in harmony as long as it’s healthy. Yet like any ecosystem, balance is key. Together, the microbes form a healthy oral microbiome (or community of microbes) that, in turn, helps keep the teeth, gums, and oral tissues healthy and strong.
Let’s delve into what a healthy oral microbiome means, why it’s important, and how to nurture it to promote optimal oral health.
What Is a Healthy Oral Microbiome?
Just as in the gut, the mouth is home to hundreds of different bacteria, fungi, and even viruses. When those microbes are balanced and diverse, you have a healthy microbiome that promotes oral health. In converse, if harmful microbes proliferate, they can lead to tooth decay or gum disease.
Understanding and promoting a healthy and balanced microbiome can help:
- Prevent dental problems, including caries (cavities) and gum (periodontal) disease, by keeping harmful bacteria in check.
- Promote overall health and reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and even respiratory infections as a healthy mouth is vital for a healthy body.
- Boost confidence due to a more beautiful smile and fresh, clean breath.
- Improve digestion as the oral microbiome within saliva begins the process of breaking down foods.
- Reduce trips to the dentist by limiting treatments needed to address oral issues.
How to Promote a Healthy Oral Microbiome
Now that you know how important promoting the microbiome in the mouth is, what steps can you take?
Step 1: Practice good oral hygiene by brushing twice daily with toothpaste that contains fluoride. Don’t forget to floss daily as well. And schedule regular cleanings and check-ups with your dental team to help catch and address issues before they escalate.
Step 2: Stay hydrated as water helps wash away food particles and also helps neutralize the pH in the mouth.
Step 3: Prioritize a healthy diet. For instance, limit foods and drinks filled with refined sugars, like sodas, candies, and sweetened teas, starchy foods, such as crackers and chips, and other ultra-processed foods, which can feed the harmful bacteria in the mouth, producing enamel-eroding acids that can lead to cavities and damage gums.
If you want something sweet to snack on, enjoy fruits and vegetables like citrus fruits, which provide vitamin C to potentially help reduce gum inflammation.
Cocoa, without added refined sugars, has been found to help keep oral bacteria in check and slow plaque formation on teeth. Cocoa nibs may be a tasty solution that’s been shown to help kill cavity-causing bacteria while supporting beneficial bacteria.
Other foods that can help support a healthy microbiome and oral health include:
- Grass-fed dairy, including cheese, yogurt, and milk, is rich in calcium, phosphates, vitamin D, and vitamin K2, needed for strong enamel.
- Fatty fish, like salmon, mackerel, and sardines, are also high in vitamins D, A, and K2, which help strengthen enamel. Plus, fish are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which support healthy gums.
- Leafy greens, like spinach, kale, arugula, and Swiss chard, provide beneficial prebiotics that feed healthy oral bacteria. These bacteria then help reduce nitrate and increase nitric oxide, which helps the body manage blood pressure. Greens are also high in minerals needed to remineralize structures in the body.
- Crunchy fruits and veggies stimulate the production of saliva, which then helps reduce harmful acids, strengthen the teeth, and promote gum health.
- Nuts and seeds also provide essential nutrients for healthy teeth, such as calcium and phosphates.
- Shiitake mushrooms contain a nutrient called lentinan, which may help inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria in the mouth.
- Probiotic foods like kefir, sauerkraut, fermented pickles, or probiotic supplements or oral rinses may help recolonize the system with health-promoting microbes.
In addition, to keep your oral microbiome healthy, you’ll want to avoid smoking and other tobacco products, which disrupt the balance and can harm oral health.
Some medications can also reduce saliva production, leading to dry mouth and reducing the microbiome’s balance. In addition, infections, especially viral or thrush, can disrupt the delicate balance of the microbiome. Discuss any potential side effects with your doctor or dentist to help address issues before they erupt into problems.
Creating a Pathway to a Healthy Mouth
Understanding the importance of the oral microbiome is vital to a healthy mouth, a beautiful smile, and overall health and well-being. It’s not just about cavity prevention or decreasing the risk of gum disease; it’s about holistic health.
Take steps to prioritize your oral health to enjoy the many benefits of a balanced oral ecosystem.Talk to Us About an Appointment