You need to feed the bacteria in your mouth. Your mouth is one of the most bacteria-ridden parts of your body, teeming with trillions of little organisms of over 600 different species who just, like, chill. But, don’t panic and rinse your mouth with hand sanitizer (really. don’t!). This bacteria makes up an ultra-diverse community that can be good (think bacteria block party BBQs) or bad (think bacteria neighbor who blasts Christmas music at 1AM in September) — and you’re in control of it like it’s a game of The Sims. Meet your oral microbiome, and learn how to nurture it.
What even is an oral microbiome?
Think of your mouth as a planet called Mouth Mars after SpaceX successfully creates a colony. But, instead of human inhabitants, Mouth Mars is colonized by single-celled organisms called bacteria. You’ve probably heard of bacteria — they’re really small and don’t have organs. They’re literally just a cell. Science!
This bacteria creates giant communities in your mouth with many different factors influencing them, and different species within the communities interacting with each other. This overall community is your oral microbiome: A mini world of its own made up of bacteria from all walks of bacterial life.
There are distinct “cities” within your mouth planet, including one called biofilm. You know how the side of ocean rocks or basically anything that’s wet is covered in a layer of ew slime? That’s biofilm — and the plaque that covers your teeth is a version of it. This biofilm is made up of bacteria and microbes just like any of the other cities on Mouth Mars (keeping with the cheesy analogy), which might live in pockets within your gums. While biofilm can be harmful to your teeth and gums, some of the life within it collaborates with other species to maintain stability on Mouth Mars.
Microbi-Who Cares, though?
Extensive research shows that your oral microbiome “constitutes an important link between oral and general health” for multiple reasons.
According to quip dental advisor and Askthedentist.com founder Dr. Burhenne, 45 percent of the bacterial community that exists in our stomachs (Stomach Saturn?) is actually the same make-up as our oral microbiome. This is because your mouth quite literally feeds your gut, and some bacteria trickles down your gastrointestinal tract to find a new home in your gut. As the New York Times and basically every wellness blogger has written over the past few years, your gut microbiome can dictate anything from your skin health to mental health — and the most recent wellness wave has been obsessed with “hacking” your gut microbiome, with little attention paid to your oral microbiome. It turns out they’re equally crucial to your health. Microbiomes, hack ‘em all!
S. Mutans, for example, is one of the bad-bacteria-guys that lives in your mouth. When the climate in your mouth becomes more acidic, they replicate really fast and burrow into your teeth in the beginning stages of tooth decay. Lactobacilli are the nicer friend of S. Mutans who falls to peer pressure. Lactobacilli normally are just kind of... there. When your diet contains more simple carbs, though, they replicate and get in on the tooth decay fun before moving down your digestive tract and potentially impacting other parts of your body.
Luckily, other citizens of Mouth Mars can be good with the right environment. Some studies have shown that Streptococcus sanguinis can alter the environment in your biofilm to be less welcoming to S. Mutans, its evil bacterial brother (they’re in the same genus AKA family). A recent study published in September of 2017 suggests one microbe in your oral microbiome makes Vitamin B12, which is a jack-of-all-vitamin-trades by providing different cells in your body with their particular needs.
Where does your oral microbiome come from?
Your mouth is the gateway to your body — and your oral microbiome reflects this by having more variation than your gut. We put a lot of different things in our mouths!
While some of this community comes from your genes (thank your family for the bacteria in your mouth the next time you see them), environmental factors like diet and hygiene habits introduce new residents, clean away old ones, and influence how they interact with each other. For example, S. Mutans eats sugars that you eat and turns it into an acidic environment favorable for the bacteria.
How do you maintain a healthy oral microbiome?
Researchers are *finally* starting to understand how the bacterial community in our mouths work, let alone figuring out how to keep them healthy. But, there are some simple things you can do to maintain a healthy oral microbiome: Eat right and keep a healthy routine.
Being mindful of the simple sugars and carbs we’re eating in desserts, baked goods, and cereals is a good start. When we put these into our mouths, it’s like polluting our mouth atmosphere. It can change the climate of our mouths that has drastic impacts on our oral microbiome, our gut microbiome, and our overall health.
That’s why keeping a proper oral hygiene is ~sooo~ important. If you’re cleaning away your biofilm before there’s a chance for bad bacteria to replicate, you’re creating a clean slate for the community to maintain itself without the interference of crumbs from that cookie you ate this morning.
Too much clean is a bad thing, though. Antibacterial mouthwashes, for example, kill both good and bad bacteria. If you’re creating imbalance in your microbiome by killing different species, you’re potentially creating an even more harmful environment for the future.
Brushing your teeth twice daily (for two minutes!) and maintaining a toothbrush that removes plaque properly (and flossing!) will have one of the biggest impacts on restoring peace among Mouth Mars citizens.