Did you know that many areas of the body have their own unique microbiome? That means different bacteria – both protective and harmful – can reside in different places on the body.
One of the unique microbiomes with a big effect on your health is the microbiome inside your mouth.
The oral microbiome is a protective “gateway microbiome.” Similarly, our nostrils have their own microbiome, and our skin, and other key places of our body that are exposed to the external environment. Healthy gateway microbiomes can help stop germs that enter from the outside. Conversely, if they are damaged, pathogens have easier access.
Your mouth has more than 700 species of bacteria inside, with different varieties living on the teeth, the tongue, the gums, and the hard palate. Some estimates say we may have more than 20 billion microbes living inside our mouths.
How Your Oral Microbiome Can Affect Your Health
Bad bacteria in your mouth are directly responsible for cavities and gum disease. But they don’t only affect your oral health – they can affect many other systems in your body. Research shows that there may be links between oral bacteria and stroke, cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, and cognitive health.
One reason a healthy balance of oral bacteria is critical to good health is that our oral microbiome produces essential nitric oxide. In fact, without a healthy oral microbiome, the body is unable to produce enough nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is a signaling molecule that helps systems of the body communicate with each other. It can help reduce inflammation, is critical for dilating blood vessels, helps brain cells communicate, and tells immune cells to kill harmful bacteria and cancer cells.
How to Care for Our Oral Microbiome
The production of nitric oxide is just one reason why how we take care of our oral hygiene is important in maintaining not only our dental health but also our overall well-being.
Yet, in an effort to maintain fresh breath and a clean mouth, we can easily go overboard and hurt our oral microbiome. For example, alcohol-based mouthwashes or oral chlorhexidine or triclosan (antibacterial ingredients commonly found in mouthwashes) can strip our oral microbiome of both good and bad bacteria.
The good news is that many of the steps that keep our oral bacteria healthy and in balance are the same steps that help keep our gut microbiome and other systems in our body healthy.
|What Helps Your Oral Microbiome?
|What Hurts Your Oral Microbiome?
|Brushing and flossing your teeth daily
Regular dental care and exams
Eating probiotic foods like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, and fermented vegetables
Eating prebiotic high-fiber foods that nourish good bacteria, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans
|Alcohol-based mouthwash, or oral chlorhexidine or triclosan, or gargling with hydrogen peroxide
Poor dental hygiene
Smoking or vaping
A dehydrated mouth
Too much sugar and processed foods
Choosing Better Oral Hygiene Products
Just like choosing healthy foods, or healthy products for our skincare, we can choose healthier products for oral care that are gentle on our oral microbiome. Avoiding harsh toothpastes and mouthwashes with alcohol, or chemicals like chlorhexidine, propylene glycol, sodium lauryl sulfate or other detergents, or artificial flavors and colors is a start. Instead, you can find natural oral care products online, at your local health food store, or even your grocery store.
TCM herbal medicine is founded on the truth that the health of any one part of our body is connected to and can affect the health of the entire body. Learning more about caring for our oral health can pay off big, in addition to keeping us smiling.
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About the Author
Olivia Hsu Friedman, LAc, Dipl.OM, DACM, Cert. TCMDerm, is the owner of Amethyst Holistic Skin Solutions and treats Acne, Eczema, Psoriasis, and TSW. Olivia treats patients via video conferencing using only herbal medicine. Olivia is Chair of the Board of Directors of the American Society of Acupuncturists, serves on the Advisory Board of LearnSkin, and is a faculty member of the Chicago Integrative Eczema Group sponsored by the National Eczema Association.