Firstly, what is an oral microbiome?
To understand this, and its importance, we need to understand the relevance of the entire human microbiome.
Our bodies are homes to a multitude of species of organisms that live in a symbiotic relationship with us (the host). Our human and microbial relationship is foundational to our ability to stay alive and thrive with countless functions within our bodies.
In our mouths is a unique community of mostly bacterial organisms, known as the oral microbiome. This microbiome is an intelligent, semi-permeable membrane that performs vital functions to keep our mouths healthy. Some of these functions include transporting ionic minerals from our saliva to the surface of our teeth to aid in remineralisation, carrying molecules of oxygen to the gums and soft tissue of the mouth, and eliminating free radicals, toxins, and other waste products from the surface. In addition, the oral microbiome plays a vital role in protecting us from harmful environmental organisms.
A balanced microbiome
It’s important to know that there is no such thing as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ bacteria, as each inhabits a healthy oral cavity pointing out the necessity for bacterial diversity.
For example, pathogenic organisms in microbiota play a role in the ongoing reprogramming of our immune system. Research into the microbiome points out the importance of microbial balance for the body’s overall health.
A balanced and healthy microbiome consists of bacteria that rely on oxygen to live; they form a thin, transparent, protective and odourless layer. Your teeth feel clean and slippery and your gums are pink and well-oxygenated in this balanced state.
What does an unbalance microbiome look like?
When the oral microbiome is imbalanced, this biofilm becomes a thick, sticky, and smelly film, which is commonly understood as the off-white plaque film on your teeth in the morning. Symptoms that often signal an imbalanced oral microbiome include bad breath, bleeding gums, and frequent tooth decay. Each of these symptoms is a sign of an imbalance that is connected to the biofilm being too thick. A number of species of bacteria in the mouth associated with tooth decay and gum disease are totally benign in a balanced oral microbiome. An imbalance can also show up as an atrophic biofilm, which means it’s too thin. This results in mouth ulcers and sensitive teeth.
Constant disturbances to this essential ecology in the mouth can cause the oral microbiome to be in a continual state of imbalance. Disturbances can include harmful oral-care products, a diet high in refined carbohydrates and sugar, a low pH in the mouth, and stress. Two dietary shifts, brought about by the development of agriculture (~7500 years ago) and the industrial revolution (~200 years ago) (Adler et al., 2013), significantly and rapidly increased our consumption of carbohydrates (particularly sucrose in agricultural development – think sugar and breads). These changes in our diet have disrupted the balance of the oral microbiome by delivering more ‘food’ to the bacteria known as pathogens, resulting in a negative effect on our overall oral wellness. This shift has caused dental caries to become the most common chronic disease worldwide (yep, those little holes in your teeth are from disease), affecting 60-90% of children and adults in industrialised countries (reviewed in Pitts et al., 2017).
Now that you understand the importance of a balanced oral microbiome, in part 2 we will explore ways in which you can assist to rebalance yours.
Look forward to chatting with you then……
All the best of health