When visiting your local grocery story, no doubt you’ll find plenty of yogurts and other probiotic foods to choose from. Probiotic foods, which contain live cultures, have become increasingly popular as people recognize the need for living, healthy flora in their digestive tracts. The right gut flora, or microorganisms, can help you to reach a healthy weight, to digest food efficiently, and to reach optimal health in many of your body’s systems. However, when thinking about the health of the overall digestive system, people often forget that this particular system starts within the mouth. In fact, having a healthy mouth is essential to having a healthy gut – and a healthy mouth actually DOES contain living bacteria.
Which Bacteria Live in the Mouth?
The mouth contains a number of tiny “microenvironments,” including the gums, the hard palate, the teeth, and the surface of the tongue. Each of these areas is home to it’s own little population of bacteria and over 700 types of bacteria can be found living in a normal and healthy human mouth. Around 1 trillion of these bacteria are swallowed on a daily basis and become part of the bacteria living in the rest of the alimentary canal, or digestive tract. Bacteroidetes, Firmicutes, and Streptococcus are all major groups of bacteria which can be found throughout the digestive system, including the mouth. The body is at its best health when these bacteria groups remain balanced and healthy.
What Happens when Oral Bacteria become Unbalanced?
When populations of “good” oral bacteria, such as Bacteroidetes, Firmicutes, and Streptococcus suffer, “bad” types of bacteria will take over. When unwanted, unhealthful bacteria take up residence in the mouth, a number of problems can occur. Oral health issues related to “bad” bacteria include, but are not limited to, halitosis (bad breath), cavities, and gum disease. Furthermore dangerous bacteria in the mouth can be swallowed and thereby spread to other areas of the body, where they can impact the health of multiple body systems and cause a wide variety of illnesses. Dysbiosis is the clinical term which refers to the imbalance between the health-promoting bacteria and the disease-promoting bacteria living in the body.
How can I Promote a Healthy Balance of Bacteria?
First, keep up the healthy habits of brushing after meals (or at least twice a day) and flossing regularly. Secondly, let go of the bad habits which will destroy the “good” bacteria that are needed to keep “bad” bacteria in check. This means forgoing antibacterial mouthwashes and only taking antibiotics when medically necessary. It can also be helpful to take a probiotic supplement or to eat probiotic foods such as yogurt. Lastly, avoid habits which help unwanted, disease-causing bacteria to thrive. This meanings staying away from sugary and starchy foods, such as candy and white flour.
As with any organisms, different species of bacteria prefer to live in different environments.
A combination of great oral hygiene and choosing to eat healthily will keep unwanted bacteria at bay without harming the necessary bacteria. Communicate with your dentist for more tips on how you can keep your mouth as healthy as possible and always keep regular dental appointments in order to identify any existing oral health issues and to avoid future problems.