Your mouth is the gateway to your gut. This is why optimal oral hygiene helps to support your gut health. It seems intuitive, right? Unfortunately, it is all too easy to disrupt our oral microbiome. Given the lack of unbiased education on oral health, it might be happening right now! As a triple board certified gastroenterologist, I’m keenly aware of the damage a bad mouth can cause to your gut. I’m here to help set the record straight on how the gut and the mouth are connected. Let’s dive into how you can protect your oral microbiome in easy and evidence-based ways!
The importance of oral health
As kids, we learned the importance of brushing and flossing to maintain healthy, beautiful teeth. But did you know oral health is so much more than your smile? Just like our gut is intimately connected to our immune and overall health, our oral health has a parallel connection. It serves as a window to the outside world. The health of our mouths can impact many essential body functions. Poor dental hygiene and oral health can even lead to severe diseases. That’s why you must use products that are safe for overall health and effective!
The oral health and gut health connection
But what is the oral and gut health connection? The average mouth is home to about 100 million bacteria for every millimeter of saliva, and is the breeding ground for more than 600 species of bacteria. To add to this, the average human swallows anywhere from 500-700 times a day. Let that sink in! So, with this knowledge, doesn’t it make sense why the mouth and gut impact one another?
Simple factors like yawning, kissing, and what you eat and drink all alter the bacterial diversity in our mouths. And just like our lifestyle and nutrition, our oral regimen and the oral care products we use affect our oral microbiome! More about that below!
Similar to the diverse microbiome in our guts, our oral microbiota is constantly changing. These microbes consist of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and some other microbes that play a role in maintaining a sealed barrier between our mouth or gut and our immune system and blood stream. Whenever there’s an imbalance in these microbes, there’s a break down in the barrier protection that results in disease and immune activation! In fact, an imbalanced oral microbiome has been associated with over 120 diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, obesity, atherosclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, fatty liver, and even certain cancers like pancreatic cancer.
Although the mouth and the gut are connected they each have a separate and unique microbiome or collection of microbes. While most of the mouth bacteria is killed by enzymes in our saliva before it makes its way down our digestive tract, there are types of bad bacteria that can survive, leading to poor dental and influence gut health. In fact, a report on genome biology and the human microbiome found that oral cavity and stool bacteria overlapped in 45% (almost half!) of subjects.
What’s the solution to knock out these bad bacteria villains? Good oral hygiene, and beneficial nutrition and lifestyle habits.
This isn’t a one way street. While a healthy mouth strengthens immunity, a strong immune system also helps to maintain oral health. These two systems go hand-in-hand.
But what can you start doing TODAY to improve our oral microbiome?
While poor oral health is automatically associated with poor oral hygiene, the cleanliness of our mouths might not always be the culprit. An excessive amount of cavities, gum diseases and even bad breath might be an indication of unhealthy gut flora. It’s essential to pay attention to both your oral and gut health. Here are some easy tips to stay proactive:
- Change your diet. Eating more fiber and prebiotic foods will feed the good bacteria and not be a driver for the disease causing bacteria in your mouth and gut. Probiotic foods like sauerkraut, miso, and other fermented foods will also supplement good bacteria into your gut.
- Avoid highly acidic drinks like kombucha, sodas. Sipping through straws also reduces the contact time between the acid and the enamel in your teeth! This helps to reduce their eroding effects on your enamel.
- Floss your teeth every day. studies show that flossing decreases overall oral bacteria diversity (something which is bad in the gut), the bacteria species it eliminates are associated with inflammation and gum diseases!
- Schedule at least two professional teeth cleanings and exams each year.
- Brush your teeth twice and floss once daily to help to support a healthy microbiome by preventing the buildup of plaque. The disease causing bacteria cannot thrive in a clean environment.
- Use oral care products (like RiseWell) that protect your oral microbiome (more on that below!).
Why we use RiseWell in our household
We know how important it is to protect our oral microbiome. That’s the reason my family uses RiseWell. RiseWell is a natural fluoride-free toothpaste without all the microbiome disrupting ingredients common in other brands. RiseWell toothpaste is also totally okay to ingest, (you still shouldn’t, but it’s okay if you do) making it easy for children to use. It is also paraben-free, vegan, and cruelty-free. It’s the only toothpaste our little Emmy has used since birth and the only one we allow in our home! Plus, RiseWell uses natural sweeteners for a refreshing taste.
When it comes to health, prevention is key
Our bodies are amazing, complex systems. While something as simple as stinky breath might be an easy fix, it could be your body’s way of telling you that something is up! When it comes to oral health, prevention is key. While it might seem harmless to skip a dental cleaning due to busy schedules, self-care and maintenance is essential and could play a bigger role in our overall health down the line. If you think your mouth might be telling you something about your gut, I encourage you to set up a dental appointment and reach out to me or another gastro doctor. And, if you’re just starting out your journey to clean products, swapping your toothpaste brand is an easy, inexpensive start.