Hundreds of bacteria species call your mouth home. These microorganisms play a crucial role in digesting your food, maintaining your immune system, and preventing diseases. However, some strains of bacteria — such as oral streptococci — also contribute to plaque development and can sometimes lead to bacterial infections. Find out more about how oral streptococci can impact your health.
The Impact of Oral Streptococci on Overall Health
You can find bacteria belonging to the genus Streptococci in almost every part of the human body. Still, streptococci dominate the oral cavity and are the primary genus found in saliva and the mouth's soft tissues. Even more, streptococci play a critical role in the development of the oral microbiome. These bacteria are the first organisms detected in newborns' mouths and considered the primary colonizer, allowing other bacteria species to assemble.
The streptococci that play a role in plaque formation are called viridans streptococci. Species in the viridans group are early colonizers of the teeth, especially Streptococcus mitis, Streptococcus sanguinis, and Streptococcus gordonii. These species bind directly to the tooth's surface to create a base layer of plaque. With a steady diet of carbohydrates and poor oral hygiene, these streptococci create an acidic environment that damages your enamel and creates cavities.
Typically, your saliva can help neutralize these acids and repair enamel damage through remineralization. But the bacteria can use the sugar from your diet to form a thick, dense layer of plaque that prevents your saliva from penetrating the biofilm and removing the dangerous acid. The acidic environment attracts bacteria like Streptococcus mutans, which is known for its cavity-causing properties. With no treatment, these oral streptococci can lead to tooth decay and loss.
Many streptococci strains live in humans without causing symptoms; however, some strains can lead to infections that vary in severity — from a sinus infection to pneumonia. Specifically, infections caused by viridans streptococci become serious when the bacteria enter other parts of the body. If the bacteria enter the bloodstream, it can cause a serious infection in the heart's lining, called endocarditis. This heart infection can be fatal and often requires hospitalization and intravenous antibiotics treatment. Patients with compromised immune systems or who already suffer from heart valve problems are especially vulnerable.
Preventing oral and health issues caused by viridans streptococci and other bacteria starts with a great oral hygiene routine. Healthy habits include:
- Brushing twice daily with fluoride toothpaste.
- Cleaning between teeth daily with floss or another interdental device.
- Eating a healthy diet low in sugar and carbohydrates.
- Regularly visiting your dentist and dental hygienist for exams and treatment.
Your oral health relies on controlling the bacteria in your mouth, but now you know how bacteria — like oral streptococci — can cause plaque or lead to infections. Stay confident, knowing that a strong oral hygiene routine can help keep you and your smile healthy and happy.
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.