Are you looking after the microbiome in your mouth?

Your mouth is home to more than 700 types of bacteria, but that’s nothing to be alarmed about – as long as you know how to take care of them.

Most of us know about our gut microbiome – the array of good and not so good bacteria that help control body processes such as digestion and our immune system.

But our mouth has a microbiome, too.

“After the gut, the oral cavity is the second largest diverse collection of organisms in the body. This includes over 700 species of bacteria alone which colonise the soft tissues such as the gums, tongue, cheeks and hard surfaces, like teeth,” explains periodontist Dr Fleur Creeper, a member of the Australian Dental Association’s Oral Health Committee.

How our oral microbiome affects our health

Keeping our oral microbiome in good shape is important for our oral and general health, according to US researchers.

“What happens in your body impacts your mouth, and that in turn impacts your body. It’s truly a cycle of life,” says professor of periodontology Purnima Kumar, in an article for Ohio State University.

Prof Kumar says the mouth “interfaces with the environment, and it’s connected to this entire tubing system”.

Highlighting the importance of a healthy oral microbiome, Prof Kumar’s 2020 research found people with diabetes have a different microbiome than non-diabetics.

“We know that changing the bacteria in your mouth and restoring them back to what your body knows as healthy and friendly bacteria actually improves your glycemic control,” she says in the article.

Taking care of your oral microbiome

The microorganisms in our mouth form complex structures called biofilms.

When the biofilms are in balance, our oral health is good. But when too many unhealthy organisms invade the mouth, this can lead to the formation of biofilms that cause gum disease and tooth decay.

So how do you keep your microbiome happy and healthy?

  1. Clean your teeth and mouth thoroughly

“Maintain good oral hygiene by brushing effectively twice a day with a fluoride containing toothpaste and clean between your teeth with floss or interdental brushes daily. This will significantly help to maintain stable and healthy oral biofilms,” says Dr Creeper.

Invest in a tongue scraper to remove tongue bacteria. Scrape in the morning before breakfast to remove bacteria that may accumulate overnight, or use your toothbrush to do this.

  1. Eat and drink well

Drink tap water to help maintain good saliva levels that lowers acid levels in our mouth. Chewing more also helps produce saliva.

Not eating enough fibre and eating too many refined carbohydrates and sugars has a detrimental effect on oral health.

Sugar feeds acid-producing bacteria that upset the balance of bacteria in our mouth and make us more prone to tooth decay.

  1. Check your mouthwash

UK researchers found that some mouthwashes containing chlorhexidine may lower saliva pH and increase acidity in the mouth.

  1. Don’t skip your dental checks

“Schedule regular visits with your dentist to ensure everything is in balance. Changes in the oral microbiome and the diseases which result from that are often asymptomatic. Your dentist can advise a tailored program based on the unique conditions of your oral cavity,” says Dr Creeper.

  1. Keep an eye on your toothbrush

Change your toothbrush every three to four months, or as soon as bristles start to splay out or show signs of wear.

Written by Sarah Marinos.