What is the Oral Microbiome? - The Ecosystem Inside Your Mouth
When you think of the word ‘bacteria,’ you likely get the heebie-jeebies and think of germs, decay, and creepy crawlers. However, the importance of bacteria for gut health has emerged in recent years, giving bacteria a slightly more positive connotation. But bacteria in your mouth - that’s gross, right? Turns out, not entirely.
The oral microbiome is the ecosystem of microorganisms - including bacteria - in the oral cavity, and it is essential to our oral health and total wellbeing. The oral microbiome of the mouth is the second-largest and diverse microbiota after the gut and contains over 700 species of bacteria (that’s a mouthful)!
Functions of the Oral Microbiome
While bacteria typically denotes something being unhealthy or unclean, the oral microbiome creates a semi-permeable protective membrane around the mouth essential to our health. In a quick snapshot, the oral microbiome performs several important functions: transporting minerals from saliva to the surface of teeth to aid in remineralization, carrying oxygen to the gums, carrying waste products away for removal, and protecting us from harmful environmental elements.
The Balance of the Oral Microbiome
Homeostasis of the Oral Microbiome
To understand the oral microbiome, one needs to consider the concept of homeostasis. While most dental hygiene practices focus on reducing so-called ‘harmful’ bacteria through brushing, flossing, and rinsing, no bacteria is absolutely ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ Rather, how bacteria functions is dependant on its surroundings. For this reason, it’s imperative to focus on creating homeostasis - or balance - of the oral microbiome.
How to Identify A Balanced Microbiome
When the oral microbiome is in a state of balance or microbial homeostasis, it contains mostly aerobic bacteria. Aerobic bacteria require oxygen to live and produce a thin, transparent, odorless film on the mouth’s surfaces. As a result, you’ll see clear signs of a clean mouth: clean teeth that are free of debris and plaque build-up along with pink, firm gums.
How to Identify An Imbalanced Microbiome
When you wake up and have a sticky film on the surface of your mouth and stinky ‘morning breath’, that is a sign of an imbalanced oral microbiome. This thick white film forms on teeth through an imbalance of probiotics and pathogens in the mouth and is often associated with tooth decay and gum inflammation.
Other symptoms of an imbalanced microbiome are bad breath, bleeding gums, and frequent tooth decay or cavities. These conditions point to a microbiome that is too thick - also called a hypertrophic biofilm. The biofilm can also be too thin, or atrophic, which may result in sensitive teeth and mouth ulcers.
What Causes Imbalance in the Oral Microbiome
The main driving force behind the balance of the oral microbiome is the pH balance of the mouth. PH balance stands for ‘potential for hydrogen’ and refers to the acid-basic ratio of an environment or substance. In the case of the oral microbiome, the pH balance influences the overall balance of the bacteria in the mouth. To achieve a healthy oral microbiome, you may want to consider adding a pH-balancing treatment to your oral health routine.
PH Balance of the Mouth
The pH balance of the mouth influences not only your oral health but your overall wellbeing. Lower, more acidic pH levels in the mouth are linked to serious health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. On the opposite end of the spectrum, alkaline, or higher pH levels, are associated with improved memory and cognition, pain reduction, reduced hypertension, and lower incidence of stroke.
Other Factors That Cause Imbalance in the Microbiome
In addition to a fluctuating pH balance in the mouth, the oral microbiome can be disturbed by harsh oral hygiene products, carbohydrate and sugar intake, and stress. Powerful oral hygiene products that are marketed to kill bacteria and are alcohol-based often throw off the natural pH balance of the mouth, causing an imbalance in the microbiome. Carbohydrates and sugar produce acid that causes tooth decay and produces a more acidic pH balance in the mouth. Finally, stress triggers a drop in salivary flow in the mouth, creating a more acidic environment.
Balancing the Oral Microbiome
Products for a Healthy Microbiome
One of the keys to creating a healthy, balanced microbiome is to take a look at the products you use daily and swap out harsh products for those that won’t strip the microbiome. Many of these products contain harsh detergents or alcohol that destroy the helpful bacteria in the microbiome. Consider reducing or eliminating products that include the following ingredients:
- Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS)
- Sodium fluoride
- Artificial sweeteners (such as sodium saccharin, aspartame, xylitol, and erythritol)
- Propylene glycol
- Diethanolamine (DEA)
- Microbeads (tiny solid plastic particles)
To protect and restore the oral microbiome, you may want to add a product specifically formulated for balancing your mouth’s pH, like the ECO Balance Deep Clean & Gum Restoration Oral Health Booster. This twice-daily toothpaste topper actively cleans teeth and gums, balances pH, and is shown to reverse early gingivitis and gum disease.
Lifestyle Changes for a Healthy Microbiome
To enhance the microbiome’s health, consider implementing lifestyle changes in your diet, stress level, and even exercise. A healthy, balanced diet is critical for building a healthy oral microbiome. Try cutting back on sugar, coffee, tea, and other acidic drinks, as well incorporating foods that are anti-inflammatory, alkalizing, and rich in anti-oxidants like the following:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Organically raised meat, fish, and eggs
- Filtered water
- Fermented foods such as kombucha and sauerkraut
When it comes to exercise, moderate movement for even 15 to 30 minutes can reduce inflammation and the stress response and increase blood flow, aiding in oral health and balance. Additionally, reducing overall stress can minimize tension and dry mouth and help the salivary flow of the mouth, which benefits the mouth’s pH balance.