You can't see them, feel them or taste them, but your mouth is home to entire colonies of microorganisms. While most of these tiny oral bacteria do us no harm, there are other species in the mix that are disease causing and can affect our health and need to be controlled with a healthy diet, good oral care practices and regular visits to your dentist.
Over 700 different strains of bacteria have been detected in the human mouth, though most people are only host to 34 to 72 different varieties. Most of these bacterial species appear to be harmless when it comes to our health. Others, known as probiotics, are beneficial bacteria that aid in the digestion of foods. Other bacteria actually protect our teeth and gums. There are some bacteria, however, that we'd rather do without, since they cause tooth decay and gum disease.
The Two Most Common Harmful Bacteria
Streptococcus mutans is the bacteria you've probably heard the most about. It lives in your mouth and feeds on the sugars and starches that you eat. That alone wouldn't be so bad, but as a by-product of its ravenous appetite, it produces enamel-eroding acids, which make streptococcus mutans the main cause of tooth decay in humans.
Porphyromonas gingivalis is usually not present in a healthy mouth, but when it does appear, it has been strongly linked to periodontitis. Periodontitis is a serious and progressive disease that effects the tissues and the alveolar bone that support the teeth. It is not a disease to be taken lightly. It can cause significant dental pain, and can eventually lead to tooth loss.
Once you've got a strain of oral bacteria, you're not likely to rid yourself of it. The good news is that you can manage and control the bacteria in your mouth with good oral care. Brushing after meals and flossing at least once per day can remove the source of food for harmful bacteria, which can keep them from reproducing in your mouth. Antibacterial mouthwash can also be used to keep your oral flora from taking over.
Your diet also plays a role in managing bacteria. Avoiding sugary and starchy foods, especially when you don't have access to a toothbrush, helps constrain bacterial growth. Also, eating foods that are known to promote healthy bacteria will help you keep your teeth and mouth healthy for a lifetime.