The link between a healthy oral microbiome and a healthy body
We all know all about the gut microbiome—the trillions of microbes that inhabit the gastrointestinal tract. This microbiome is absolutely crucial to our health, which is why so many of us take probiotics and prebiotics.
But did you know that your mouth has a microbiome, too? In fact, each tooth in your mouth may harbor up to 500 million microbes, and overall, there are around 700 different species of bacteria in the mouth.
When your oral microbiome is in balance, the good microbes that populate it do everything from re-mineralizing your teeth to keeping your gums healthy. When it’s out of balance, bad bugs get a foothold (or good bugs over-multiply), putting you at serious risk for cavities and gum disease.
And that’s just the start of the trouble because your mouth is the gateway to your body. If your gums are inflamed and “leaky,” it’s easy for bad bugs to escape into your lymphatic system, your bloodstream, and your nervous system, and even cross the blood-brain barrier. These bad bugs can cause chronic inflammation and illness anywhere in your body, which is why gum disease is linked to a higher risk of deadly diseases including stroke, heart disease, osteoporosis, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease.
The connection between oral health and conception
If you’re trying to conceive a child right now, the health of your gums could make all the difference. Researchers in Australia analyzed data on more than 3,400 pregnant women participating in a study that examined how oral care affects pregnancy outcomes. The researchers found that on average, women with gum disease took two months longer (seven months versus five) to conceive than women without gum disease. The difference was even greater for non-Caucasian women, who tended to require more than 12 months to conceive if they had gum disease.
By the way, your partner’s oral health matters, too. Poor oral health can lead to semen abnormalities and reduce the ability of sperm to swim.
The link between oral health and your wellbeing during pregnancy
There’s an old saying that “you lose one tooth for each pregnancy.” While that’s not the case (don’t panic!), it is true that being pregnant is hard on your gums and teeth. Here’s why:
- Your hormones change. When you’re pregnant, you produce more estrogen and progesterone. These hormones cause your teeth to loosen slightly and also increase the blood flow to your gums, making them inflamed and sensitive. In addition, hormonal changes can lead to pro-inflammatory changes in your oral microbiome.
- Your diet changes. Odds are, some of the foods you used to love will “turn you off” during pregnancy, while you may crave others—especially sweets like ice cream and chocolate. The bad bugs in your mouth love sugar, so if you over-indulge in sweet treats, you’ll up your risk for cavities and gum disease.
- You may experience morning sickness. Vomiting bathes the mouth in stomach acids, which weaken and erode tooth enamel.
- You may have more difficulty brushing. Some mothers develop a more sensitive gag reflex during pregnancy.
While it’s tougher to keep your mouth healthy during pregnancy, it’s more important than ever. That’s because gum disease is linked to an increased risk of premature labor, low birth weight, and preeclampsia (a dangerous pregnancy complication).
How can you keep your mouth healthy?
Luckily, you can take simple steps right now to improve your oral health. Here are the best ways to do it:
- Eat foods that build a strong oral microbiome. Cut down on sugar and simple carbohydrates, which increase the population of pathogenic microbes in your mouth. Instead, eat lean proteins, loads of fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and healthy fats like olive oil, pastured butter, and avocado oil.
- Brush twice a day, and floss, floss, floss! The cleaner you keep your mouth, the healthier your oral microbiome will be. If you’re having trouble with your gag reflex, talk with your dentist about ways to desensitize this reflex. (One strategy is to brush the front of your tongue with a soft toothbrush once a day until that section is desensitized, and then brush a tiny bit farther back on your tongue each day.)
- Get regular dental cleanings. This will keep bacteria-laden plaque from building up on your teeth.
- Rinse your mouth after eating. Also, if you have morning sickness, rinse thoroughly after each episode.
For more on the topic visit:
- “Women’s fertility linked to oral health,” Medical News Today, July 6, 2011, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/230568#1.
- Tao D-Y et al. “Relationship between periodontal disease and male infertility: A case-control study.” Oral Diseases, 27(3), April 2021, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32702140/.
- Saini R et al. “Periodontitis: A risk for delivery of premature labor and low-birth-weight infants.” Journal of Natural Science, Biology and Medicine, 1(1), July-December 2010, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3217279/
- Daalderop LA et al. “Periodontal disease and pregnancy outcomes: overview of systematic reviews.” JDR Clinical and Translational Research, 3(1), January 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6191679/
- Wei B-J et al. “Periodontal disease and risk of preeclampsia: a meta-analysis of observational studies.” PLoS One, 8(8), August 2013, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3741358/