The oral microbiome is a concept that is growing in scrutiny among dental professionals and their patients. The term “microbiome” refers to a mixture of microorganisms in a certain environment, so an oral microbiome means the collection of bacteria and other microscopic entities that naturally exist within the mouth. But when the microbiome balance is off, it can lead to dental problems.
Good and Bad Microbes
The oral microbiome consists of hundreds of species of microbes that live on the soft tissues of your mouth—the gums, palate, cheek, and so on. Most microbes are benign, meaning they don’t cause any harm to your teeth or your dental health in general. In fact, some microbes are helpful. They may help balance the pH in your mouth or kill harmful bacteria.
Other microbes can be harmful, and since the mouth is connected to the rest of the body, the effects can be far-reaching. Viruses for cold and flu, for example, often enter the body through the oral cavity and infect your general health. The presence of some bacteria has been linked to gum disease and tooth decay.
Microbiome’s Role in Decay
It’s common knowledge that sugary foods and lack of dental hygiene can contribute to tooth decay, but dental researchers are discovering the oral microbiome also contributes. The sugar stuck on and between teeth creates acids that weaken the tooth enamel and lead to decay because of streptococcus bacteria.
At the same time, when you lack “friendly” microbes in your mouth, the harmful bacteria are left unchecked. Bacteria called lactobacilli work to reduce plaque and inflammation, helping you to ward off tooth decay, gum disease, and bad breath. Other microbes do similar work.
A number of factors can throw off your microbiome balance. Your diet, lifestyle, and genetics all play a role. Certain medications can also cause changes. A dry mouth can be especially conducive to the growth of bacteria.
How to Change Oral Microbiome
Maintaining a healthy oral microbiome is the key to reducing the risk of decay and other dental health problems. This begins with a combination of home care and professional cleaning. At home, it’s important to eat a healthy diet and avoid foods high in sugar and refined carbohydrates, including sugary drinks.
Brush your teeth at least twice daily, and floss every time you brush. Brush around the gums to the cheek line, and don’t neglect your tongue. The tongue has thousands of tiny indentations where bacteria can hide. Using mouthwash can be a good idea because it does help kill harmful microbes, but if it’s too harsh, it could kill the good microbes along with the bad or disrupt the balance of the microbiome. Consult with your dentist for a microbiome-friendly mouthwash.
Regular dental cleanings and dentist visits are also crucial to maintaining a healthy oral microbiome. A dental hygienist not only cleans your teeth but can also monitor your general dental health. Your dentist can answer any questions you might have about oral hygiene and changes you can make to improve your microbiome.
Your teeth need to last a lifetime, so it’s essential to take care of them properly, even if you don’t have any problems at present. Preventative care, such as checkups every six months, can keep your entire mouth—and its microbiome—in shape.
In Sandy and the surrounding area, Dr. Lewis and his staff can help you maintain great dental health. Click here to make an appointment.