No matter how many times a day we brush our teeth or wash our skin, our entire body will still be crawling with bacteria. Sound gross? While the word “bacteria” alone may make you want to jump out of your chair, we wouldn’t be alive without them. “The human microbiome is a collection of 70 to 100 trillion microorganisms—think viruses, bacteria and fungi—that exist on or in the human body,” says Beverly Hills, CA cosmetic dentist Kourosh Maddahi, DDS, who adds that its primary purpose is to protect us from disease and infection by forming a shield against the outside world.
Too many consumers misunderstand the connection between bacteria and a beautiful smile.—Ronald Goldstein, DDS
Cranberry Township, PA cosmetic dentists Drs. Brian and Robert Klaich, DMD say “the mouth is considered the gateway to whole-body health,” and Dr. Maddahi says that’s because whatever goes into the mouth gets absorbed into your bloodstream in as little as 60 seconds, even if the material is not swallowed. “This is why the primary port of disease and infection is the mouth. Your hands touch whatever goes into your mouth, so the oral microbiome’s job is to create a barrier to block infection and disease that’s funneling into the oral cavity.” What happens when a virus or bacteria gets past this barrier? According to Washington, D.C. cosmetic dentist Daniel J. Deutsch, DDS, it’s less about what gets into the mouth, and more about what travels from the mouth through the bloodstream. “As long as there’s a low level of pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria in the mouth, then the body has a way to avoid inflammation,” he says. In order to keep the ‘viral load’ on the lower side, the microbiome ensures that the number of viruses and bacteria entering the body does not reach a level where disease can fester.
The Mouth-Body Connection
There is a sizable difference between a healthy and unhealthy microbiome, and Dr. Deutsch breaks it down: “A healthy oral microbiome has a good balance between helpful bacteria and bacteria that can cause problems. An unhealthy oral microbiome has an imbalance between good and bad bacteria. Bad bacteria promote decay, cause bleeding gums and increase inflammation that may cause chronic health conditions.”
According to Charlotte, NC cosmetic dentist Patrick J. Broome, DMD, current peer-reviewed medical research has confirmed the link between oral bacteria and many inflammatory diseases in the body. “We know that bacteria in the mouth do not stay in the mouth. Rather, they are carried through the bloodstream and passed through our vital organs.” While there are 500-plus types of bacteria living in the oral cavity, Dr. Deutsch says approximately five of them are concerning for total-body health. “The bacteria known as Aa, Td, Pg, Fn and Tf are highly connected to illnesses like heart disease, Alzheimer’s, dementia, stroke and rheumatoid arthritis.”
It’s a Sign
If you notice these symptoms, your oral microbiome may need a pick-me-up.
“Bleeding, swollen and sore gum tissue signal the first stage of periodontal disease,” says Dr. Broome, who adds that these initial stages often go untreated. “Next, bone loss occurs, gaps and spaces between the teeth begin to form, and then the teeth become loose. At this point, the overgrowth of bacteria formed by periodontal disease may have already made its way into the bloodstream, putting patients at higher risk for inflammatory diseases.”
“In most cases, an unbalanced oral microbiome is the byproduct of poor hygiene that opens the doors to plaque, gum disease and tooth decay,” says Drs. Klaich. “The bacteria that thrive in these conditions are often the primary source of bad breath. Another common cause for bad breath is food debris, which gets decomposed by bacteria and produces high levels of foul-smelling sulfur compounds,” adds Dr. Broome. “Unhealthy gums provide a favorable environment in which unhealthy bacteria can grow, multiply and quickly overwhelm the body’s immune system.” New York cosmetic dentist Irene Grafman, DDS adds that bad breath may also be a sign that the mouth’s pH is too acidic.
Keep your smile microbiome at its healthiest by following these dentist-recommended practices.
Eat Healthy Foods
Dr. Grafman says that our microbiome functions best when it’s at a neutral pH. “The key is to prevent our bodies from becoming too acidic where bacteria thrive, or too alkaline, which may disrupt some of the body’s processes,” she explains. “We can do that by eating a healthy diet—essential foods include fruits, vegetables and grains—drinking a lot of water to flush out waste, and keeping up with our vitamin and mineral intake.”
Los Altos, CA cosmetic dentist Marlana Shile, DDS adds that maintaining a low-sugar diet also keeps the mouth at a neutral pH. “Some of the most harmful bacteria, like streptococcus mutans, proliferate in sugar-heavy environments, so maintaining a low-sugar and low-acid diet may help to decrease these microbes from getting out of control.”
Brush and Floss
“Biofilm, or the collection of bacteria that grow together within a substance, house microorganisms that can proliferate and upend the balance of good bacteria,” Dr. Shile explains. However, Atlanta cosmetic dentist Ronald Goldstein, DDS adds that this happens when you don’t brush effectively. “The solution is to follow your hygienist’s advice about the best brushes and techniques to effectively remove the bacteria around your gum tissue.”
Use Microbiome-Safe Products
“By over-sanitizing with antimicrobial products, you are destroying the microbiome,” says Dr. Maddahi. “As humans, we are always exposed to different microorganisms, so limiting your exposure to bacteria means you are not allowing your body to build its immune system.” Using antiseptic mouthwash as an example, he adds: “More than 98 percent of the bacteria in your mouth are healthy bacteria that are being destroyed by the alcohol in mouthwash. We don’t want to kill off good or bad bacteria, so I like to use an alcohol-free mouthwash to keep healthy bacteria intact.”