How Your Oral Microbiome Impacts Your Dental Health

Kids and Teacher Investigating Oral Microbiome With Microscope

Your mouth is home to many microorganisms, including oral bacteria. In fact, an article published in Protein & Cell notes that more than 1,300 strains of oral microorganisms exist. While that may sound shocking, the oral flora that comprise your oral microbiome actually support your health — as long as they are in balance. Unfortunately, changes in your mouth's environment can disrupt their happy living arrangement, leading to dental diseases, such as tooth decay and gum disease. Here's how to ensure your mouth has a healthy and happy community of good bacteria.

Understanding Your Oral Microbiome

A review in the Journal of Oral Biosciences describes symbiosis as oral microorganisms living in harmony with you and dysbiosis as the breakdown in the relationship between these organisms. Dysbiosis occurs when there's a shift in balance due to changes within your oral cavity, and it's this imbalance that leads to dental disease.

For example, the pH level in your mouth can lower as a result of diet changes or a reduction in saliva flow. This type of alteration in your oral ecosystem allows acid-producing and acid-tolerant bacteria (more commonly referred to as plaque) to grow at the expense of beneficial bacteria. And when you allow these acid-producing bacteria to accumulate in your mouth, you increase your risk of dental decay and cavities.

Oral Bacteria and Dental Disease

Cavities are the most common chronic infectious disease, affecting people of all ages, as stated in the Protein & Cell article — and oral bacteria are the main culprits. According to a study in the Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, the bacterium Streptococcus mutans is a main contributor to cavities. A species of bacteria known as Veillonella is also associated with cavity development, especially in young children, according to a study in the Journal of Bacteriology. When your oral microbiome is imbalanced, these bacteria thrive and produce acids that damage the hard, protective coating of your teeth.

Veillonella, especially when present with Streptococcus mutans, can also contribute to gum disease, which is the destruction of the tissues and supporting structures of the teeth, as the Journal of Bacteriology study explains. This makes sense, as the space or pocket between your gums and your teeth is dark and moist, providing the perfect home for many bacteria.

Maintaining the Balance

To keep your oral microbiome in a healthy state of symbiosis, it's important to maintain impeccable oral hygiene to prevent plaque buildup. Here's a complete list of what you can do to maintain bacterial balance and a disease-free mouth, as outlined by the ADA:

  • Brush your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste.
  • Floss your teeth daily.
  • Limit sugary beverages and snacks.
  • See your dentist twice a year for routine exams and cleanings.
  • Drink water containing fluoride.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Avoid getting oral piercings.

You don't have to do daily bacterial counts to know that your oral cavity has the right proportion of good bacteria. Just keep up your preventive protocol and let your smile and healthy teeth tell the story. If you have any questions about how to keep your oral health in check, speak with your dentist or dental hygienist.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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Tips for a Healthy Diet

  • Foods high in sugar are a particularly common cause of tooth decay. Making these foods a treat rather than a staple will help protect your teeth.

  • To maintain a balanced diet, eat a variety of foods from each of the five major food groups.

  • When choosing a snack, go for nutritious foods such as cheese, raw vegetables, plain yogurt or a piece of fruit.