Holistic Dentistry: What is the microbiome?

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The terrain of our bodies, its ‘microbiome,’ is host to trillions of microorganisms. Some are beneficial and some are not. You might hear about the ‘microbiome of the gut,’ as well as the ‘microbiome of the mouth.’ Given that the digestive process begins in the mouth, the two are interconnected. Aside from the role the gut plays in digestion, it is also the source of approximately 70% of our body’s immune cells.

The connection between the microbiome of the mouth and illness has been known for a while. Oral bacteria circulating in the body have been linked with a number of systemic diseases, including gut diseases. But how do these microbes get into the different parts of the digestive tract?  There are four ways:

1) Microbes from the mouth can directly penetrate the esophagus, the muscular tube connecting the throat with the stomach. This can be enough to unbalance the digestive tract’s ecosystem.

2) Bleeding gums due to gingivitis and gum disease can give oral microbes access to the bloodstream, allowing them to circulate systemically.

3) Bacteria living along and under your gums can live in an oxygen-depleted environment. These ‘anaerobic’ bacteria release very toxic waste and by-products (basically bacteria poop) into any gaps between your gums and teeth. The toxicity of this waste causes inflammation, redness and bleeding gums.

Recently, microbial metabolites directly affecting the gastrointestinal tract have been identified. Metabolites, AKA  bacteria poop, can lead to various chronic diseases of the digestive tract. When absorbed into the bloodstream, they can cause a low-grade inflammatory state.

One of the worst offenders in periodontal disease is P. gingivalis. It has been found in the intestines, where it can contribute to a ‘leaky gut.’ This inflammatory condition allows food particles and toxins to pass back into the bloodstream.

4) Oral bacteria and other microbes found in the mouth can reach the stomach through swallowed saliva, nutrients and drinks. These bacteria generally don’t colonize in a healthy intestine, but in cases where there is gum disease, they will multiply and may cause chronic inflammation.

There are also plenty of ‘good microbes’ in the gut that you’ll want to encourage with good habits and a good diet.  Probiotics are another way to help beneficial bugs thrive, especially when there has been antibiotic use.

One of the worst offenders in periodontal disease is P. gingivalis. Courtesy photo

Actually, the most important thing you can do is keep your teeth and gums clean. For most people, this means brushing, flossing and using a rubber tip daily. At Integrative Dentistry we replace your toothbrush and rubber tip (a Stimulator by GUM) when you come for cleaning. (Consider replacing your toothbrush even more often).

The purpose of using these tools is to remove the biofilm that collects along your gum line and between teeth. This white film, called plaque, is the primary food source for oral bacteria. Once bacteria colonize as plaque it may progress to inflammation, red, bleeding gums and gingivitis, the precursor to gum disease

If you have inflamed gums that bleed when you brush or floss, or if your teeth are loose, be sure to get this checked out by your dentist or hygienist. Learn more about practicing good home care. Ask during your next cleaning appointment! Don’t be shy. It makes all the difference to have healthy teeth and gums in a healthy oral microbiome.

Dr. Carey O’Rielly, DDS is a holistic dentist practicing at Integrative Dentistry in Encinitas together with Dr. Bo Ah Kim and Dr. Hyung Jin Bae. To learn more visit our website at myholisticdentist.com or contact us at 760-632-1304. More “Holistic Dentistry” here

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