Your Oral Microbiome Is Crucial For Overall Health — Here's How To Support It
Over the past decade or so, there has been a rising awareness of the invaluable importance of our gut health and how critical it is to support our gut microbiome. However, many people are still quite unfamiliar with our oral microbiome, the second most diverse microbiome in our bodies harboring over 700 species of bacteria.
The mouth is the gateway into our bodies and the beginning of our gastrointestinal tract. We are learning more and more about how the gut and mouth can affect each other, as well as the mouth-gut axis and how the mouth may be the gatekeeper of our gut health.
We swallow anywhere from 500 to 1,000 times a day, and with each swallow we are potentially seeding our gut with microbes from our oral cavity. If these microbes are negative in nature, this can lead to imbalances, exacerbating issues and influencing overall GI health.
But what exactly is the oral microbiome, and what can we do to nourish and support it? More importantly, what happens if we don't?
What is the oral microbiome?
The oral microbiome includes your mouth, nose, and parts of your throat, tonsillar beds, and esophagus. Think of it as a delicate rainforest, with multiple niches within the oral cavity itself. The bacteria along your gums may differ slightly from those on your teeth, from those on your tongue, and from those on your tonsils.
Beneficial bacteria are necessary in our mouths, as they help protect our teeth from acid, aid in remineralization, ward off unwelcome microorganism offenders, and help to maintain an appropriate pH balance. However, this microbial magic can easily be sent into imbalance, in which our mouths start to harbor more negative bacteria than positive helpers. This is called dysbiosis, and it is at the center of gum and periodontal issues—and ultimately systemic wellness.
Some of the main ways we can disrupt our healthy microbiomes are by improper or insufficient brushing and flossing routines, consuming a highly processed and acidic diet of refined sugars and flours, mouth breathing, and using harsh and abrasive dental products that actually strip away helpful bacteria, too. Much like our gut microbiome, supporting our oral microbiome is key for excellent oral and overall health.
How to support your oral microbiome.
How does one nourish their oral microbiome? Here are my top tips:
I cannot emphasize flossing enough, and I do suggest trying to do it nightly (before brushing) to remove food remnants and unideal bacteria. If your gums bleed, that is not OK, as it could be a sign of inflammatory processes and aggravated gums! Keep flossing. Much like playing the guitar for the first time or gardening again in the spring, you need to build up "callused" gingival tissue, and this takes time, so keep at it.
Try tongue scraping.
Scraping the bacteria from your tongue allows good bacteria a chance to proliferate. Use an actual tongue scraper if you can, not just your toothbrush, as you will find you remove a lot more debris and "gunk" this way. Once you start, you'll be hooked; I promise.
Reduce sugary & acidic foods.
Bad bacteria overgrow when they eat sugar, especially in an acidic environment. Simply cutting back on your intake of sugary and acidic foods will make a big difference.
Avoid excess mouthwash & essential oils.
Alcohol can dry out the mouth, and many mouth rinses and antibacterial mouth rinses can kill all the good and bad bacteria in your mouth at once. It's better to feed the good bacteria in the mouth rather than destroy the whole ecosystem.
Try oil pulling.
You can oil pull for even a few minutes to reap the benefits of better hydration, microbiome support, and gentle bacterial removal. Bonus: It can help to reduce inflammatory processes in the mouth! I prefer unrefined organic coconut oil, but some follow Ayurvedic traditions and opt for sesame.
Take a probiotic.
Taking a probiotic supplement can be beneficial for your overall health, and now companies are even making specific oral probiotics that benefit the microbiome of the mouth.* Of course, prebiotics are critical here, too, so be sure to eat nutrient-dense whole foods, as well. I also suggest eating fermented foods daily with natural, healthy bacteria, which are often high in vitamin K2 (a unique form of this essential fat-soluble nutrient).
Use nasal breathing.
Breathing through your nose boosts saliva production, which helps to remineralize the teeth while helping to keep the oral pH in a healthy 6 to 7 range. Dry mouths harbor more bad bacteria, and we lose the natural protection of our saliva. Mouth breathing often leads to increased gum issues, not to mention poor sleep and recovery, lower nitric oxide levels, and issues with mood, temperament, and learning capabilities.
My best advice? Let's get our mouths back into our bodies! Be sure you are prioritizing your oral health through hygiene, diet, and breathing, don't overdo it with dental products and marketing (less is more!), and be sure you see a dentist at least twice a year (ideally a functional or biological dentist, if possible).
Staci Whitman, DMD attended Tufts University School of Dental Medicine and initially worked as a general dentist, eventually going back to school, earning a certificate in pediatric dentistry from Oregon Health and Sciences University (OHSU). She has always been passionate about children's sleep and airway health, focusing her research in residency on how to improve airway assessments and diagnostic tools in the pediatric population. She is the founder of NoPo Kids Dentistry in North Portland, Oregon where she takes a whole-body, holistic, and functional approach with her patients.
She became a Diplomate of the American Board of Pediatric Dentistry in 2012 and is a Board-Certified Pediatric Dentist and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. She is also involved in many dental organizations including the Holistic Dental Association, the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology, the International Academy of Biological Dentistry and Medicine, the American Association of Ozonotherapy, and has her Certification in Laser Proficiency. She has taken numerous courses and training programs in children’s sleep and airway medicine, studying oral myofunctional therapy, craniosacral therapy, and is a Breathe Institute Ambassador.
Whitman is an Internationally Certified Health and Wellness Coach from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and is currently attending the Institute of Functional Medicine and the American College of Integrative Dentistry and Medicine with expected certification dates in
2022. She will also begin her Masters in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine next year.