You’ve Heard of the Gut Microbiome. Here’s Why Your Oral Microbiome Might One Day Prove To Be Just as Important.
Some interesting new data is emerging, and it could have implications for people’s overall health.
The gut microbiome has gotten a lot of attention in recent years.
Often called “the second brain,” some really interesting studies show that the health of our gut microbiome might play a key role in our overall physical and emotional wellbeing. (An important note: these studies show some correlations, but not necessarily causation — yet.)
We have a symbiotic relationship with our microflora: the bacteria, fungi, and viruses that live in our gut. This complex ecosystem is influenced by our diet and our genetics, and in an ideal situation, it remains in a state of balance.
There are times, however, when this symbiotic relationship can turn into a pathogenic one. If a certain type of bacteria is able to overgrow, and the system is thrown out of balance, disease can be promoted. It’s like introducing a new predator into a jungle; the entire order of things can be thrown out of whack.
The health of the oral microbiome might one day be a key indicator for the overall health of the individual.
The mouth is the first entry point for the digestive tract. It has its own complex jungle of bacteria, fungi, and viruses that live inside it. It stands to reason that some of the correlations and potential causations we now ascribe to the gut microbiome can also be ascribed to the oral microbiome.
A healthy oral microbiome is important for the overall health of the individual. According to Nature magazine, Streptococcus salivarius — a member of the oral microbiome — has the ability to inhibit inflammation. Poor oral health has been linked to higher outcomes of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Again, these links may be correlation and not causation, but the evidence for causation is becoming more compelling.
It’s still early days, but researchers are beginning to explore how the oral microbiome may be linked to other diseases, like Alzheimer’s. This is not to say that if you clean your teeth you won’t get Alzheimer’s. But there is epidemiological evidence to support correlation. And if we can eventually prove causation and a mechanism of action, then we’ve opened the door to incredible preventative treatment modalities.
Keeping your mouth healthy — and going to the dentist — is key.
Unlike other microbiomes of the human body, the oral microbiome is made unique by the presence of the body’s only non-shedding surfaces: teeth. Teeth (and for that matter, dental restorations like fillings and crowns) present a solid foundation for the formation of complex layers of microbiota, known as a biofilm. As this soft biofilm matures and thickens, it can become visible to the human eye. This is what dental plaque is.
If the plaque is not physically removed by oral hygiene practices, it continues to mature and can mineralize and harden. Mineralized plaque, also known as dental calculus, or tartar, is now very difficult (or impossible) to remove by home care oral hygiene. But don’t despair; dentists and dental hygienists can remove these hardened layers of biofilm and their disruptive microflora along with them. You’ll have a fresh start… until they start to grow and mature again.
The future tech of the microbiome.
What we’ve used so far to keep the oral microbiome healthy is to make sure patients reduce their sugar intake, brush, and floss. We also scrape away the films of the microbiome as they exist around their gums and on their teeth, making sure to get all the nooks and crannies — just physically remove it. It’s why it’s important for folks to see the dentist — we get the places they can’t reach.
These are effective tools. But looking ahead, can we have a more nuanced strategy with our preventative services? For example, can we develop a probiotic for the oral microbiome? Can we introduce bacteria that is actually very helpful to the mouth (and overall health of the individual), and can it take the place of the bad actors? And can these new tools also have a profound and positive effect on our overall health, like reducing our risk for cardiovascular disease?
This is the type of future tech stuff that excites me.