The balance between our body’s oral and gut bacteria is a complex system that plays an important role in overall health.
Right now, trillions of bacteria, fungi and viruses live in and on every one of us. These microbes are known as our microbiome – a word you may be hearing a lot more lately as science is revealing more about its connection to our overall health.
About 70% of our total microbiome can be found in our gut, specifically our large intestines, and are integral to survival. The microbiome protects us against pathogens, controls our immune system, and enables the digestion of food to produce energy.
But their second most favorite habitat? Our mouths. The oral microbiome performs vital functions, from transporting saliva to eliminating waste, and protects against harmful environmental organisms as well as maintaining a stable environment in our mouths.
Understanding the relationship between oral and gut health
Our anatomy being what it is, it is no surprise that a vibrant oral microbiome is key to optimal gut and digestive health too, particularly in helping to control inflammation. Bacteria from gum disease can be swallowed, triggering a condition called dysbiosis – a range of digestive disturbances including bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and stomach cramps, among others.
Illness-inducing bacteria can also enter the bloodstream through the lining of the mouth, causing low-grade inflammation throughout the body and several diseases, including gum disease, which in turn can bring on a variety of other chronic conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, gut related cancers and liver disease.
The key to keeping our oral bacteria healthy and balanced
Brush two times a day along with regular flossing.
- Schedule teeth cleanings every 6 months and make an appointment immediately if your gums are bleeding.
- Establish a healthy microbiome by eating fiber rich foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans and whole grains.
- Regularly consume probiotic foods with live bacterial cultures such as yogurt. Probiotics add to the existing population of good bacteria in our gut.
- Try fermented foods. Unheated fermented foods like fresh sauerkraut, kimchi, miso and kombucha tea contain live microorganisms that are very beneficial.
While more study of our microbiome is needed, luckily all indications show that good oral hygiene can be positive both for your dental health and your wider health. Eating a diet rich in whole plant foods will help to keep your health-promoting gut bacteria thriving to strengthen your gut barrier and support the immune system.
Sarah Cunningham is a Registered Dietitian and the Clinical Nutrition Manager at White Plains Hospital