Kill Bad Breath & Whiten Your Teeth By Protecting The (Good) Bacteria In Your Mouth
When it comes to keeping your pearly whites, well, pearly white, you probably think you know the drill. Foods like tomatoes, coffee, and wine are notorious for staining teeth while products like brightening toothpaste and white strips claim to reverse it (and so the cycle continues).
But the biggest influence on the whiteness of your teeth is actually already in your mouth: the oral microbiome. Much like the all-important gut microbiome, the oral microbiome is a complex microbial community made up of beneficial bacteria and other organisms (six to 10 billion of them, in fact), explains biologic dentist Dr. Gerry Curatola, DDS, author of The Mouth-Body Connection. A healthy oral microbiome helps remineralize teeth, transports oxygen molecules to your gums, carries waste products away from your gums, keeps bad breath at bay, and, yes, influences how white your teeth appear.
How the oral microbiome keeps your teeth white.
It does this in two main ways. First, "when the oral microbiome is healthy, it's a thin, clear, odorless protective film," says Curatola. "But when that oral microbiome is out of balance, it's a thick, sticky, smelly film that you wake up with on your teeth in the morning." This thick film is stain-absorbing, so your teeth are more prone to the staining effects of what you eat and drink.
The oral microbiome also influences how white your teeth are through its role in maintaining healthy enamel. When the oral microbiome is in balance, "that film is transporting ionic minerals from saliva, like calcium and phosphorus, to the surfaces of your enamel so they re-mineralize," says Curatola. And thicker, stronger enamel means whiter teeth. "Think of the enamel as a piece of glass that goes over your teeth: The thicker the enamel, the frostier the glass, the whiter your teeth," he explains.
On the other hand, if you have thin, translucent enamel, the dentin (or the yellow part of the tooth) is closer to the surface, making your teeth appear duller. Ironically, thin enamel also makes your teeth even more sensitive to whitening treatments since the dentin (which is connected to the pulp, where the nerve is) isn't as protected by the enamel.
How to restore your oral microbiome for whiter teeth.
There are a few ways to restore an out-of-whack oral microbiome for whiter teeth. First, Curatola warns against products that strip the mouth of its good bacteria, like detergent toothpaste and alcohol mouthwash (if it says something like "kills germs" or "kills bacteria," it's probably a no-go on his list).
Even some holistic health practices can harm the oral microbiome, like coconut oil pulling and using charcoal toothpaste. Common ingredients in natural toothpastes such as tea tree oil and xylitol also disrupt the balance, so keep an eye out for those. Lifestyle habits also play a role in the health of the oral microbiome. When it comes to nutrition, opt for alkalizing, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant-rich foods, says Curatola. This helps prevent an acidic environment in the mouth, so acid-loving bacteria that disrupts the oral microbiome won't be able to thrive.
Exercise is also important since staying active promotes healthy circulation and boosts the immune system, he says. Finally, focus on stress management. "When you're stressed, your saliva dries up, you grind your teeth, and you do a lot of other unhealthy things [that affect your mouth,]" says Curatola.
In fact, these practices are important for overall wellness, too—limiting toxic chemicals, eating well, exercising, and managing stress have major health payoffs, including rebalancing the oral microbiome. And while the benefits of restoring the good bacteria in your mouth go beyond the surface of your teeth, a whiter, brighter smile is a nice bonus.
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