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The connection between nutrition and the oral microbiome

Did you know that we are more bacteria than human? Our gut is home to approximately 100 trillion microorganisms. That is 10 times more bacteria (comprising over 400 known diverse bacterial species) than all the human cells in the entire body. 

Our gut health is built on a mutually useful relationship between the beneficial bacteria, potentially harmful bacteria, pathogenic (harmful) bacteria, and the host - us. This symbiotic relationship is foundational to our ability to stay alive and thrive. 

The oral microbiome

We can see a similar relationship in the oral cavity wherein several hundred species of bacteria live and create the second most diverse biome of the body. This very delicate balance of bacteria exists in your mouth on every surface including teeth, the area around tooth surfaces, tongue, hard palate as well as the area above and below the gums.

If you think about the fact that the oral cavity is a major gateway to the rest of your digestive and respiratory tracts, then you can really start seeing the importance of keeping your mouth healthy.

“Research shows that the oral microbiome is foundational to just about every aspect of the gut microbiome.” —Dr. Mark Hyman

A major 2019 study in the Journal of Oral Microbiology discovered that bacterial populations from the mouth make their way to the gut microbiota. Why? Because when food enters your mouth, it's chewed and mixed with saliva and enzymes for digestion, and thus passes (with some of your oral bacteria) to your stomach and intestinal tract. So it's important to keep your oral bacteria healthy, alongside your gut bacteria.

Oral bacteria imbalance

Some of the signs of imbalance between the different species of oral bacteria are bad breath, bleeding gums, and tooth decay. What’s interesting is that a number of species of oral bacteria related to tooth decay and gum disease are non-harmful at a balanced state. Which tells us how important is to keep a healthy equilibrium within our oral bacteria to avoid progressive oral health issues.

What causes oral bacteria imbalance?

  • A diet high in refined carbohydrates and sugar.

  • A diet low in fibre.

  • A low pH in the mouth.

  • Harmful oral-care products such as detergent-based toothpaste and mouthwashes containing alcohol.

  • Vitamin D deficiency.

  • Low levels of folate.

  • Stress.

  • A decrease in salivary flow.

  • Mouth breathing leading to dry mouth.

  • Acidic foods and drinks: soda, coffee, alcohol, and energy drinks.

Well-balanced nutrition makes for good oral health and a "happy" microbiome.

The foods you eat have a direct impact on your oral microbiome and saliva. For example, carbohydrates and sugar produce an acid that eats away at the enamel and causes tooth decay. This can cause a shift from slightly alkaline to a more acidic pH. 

Optimal levels of calcium are crucial but we also need efficient levels of vitamin D which is vital for calcium absorption.

When vitamin D levels are low you only absorb 10-15% of the calcium in your diet.

It's important to note here that without enough magnesium, calcium won’t be able to harden your teeth properly. And that fat-soluble vitamins such as A, K1, K2, and vitamin E are crucial for strong teeth and good oral health, and mustn't be overlooked.

Recent research is revealing that our lifestyle has a great impact on the microbiome. For example, when you don’t get enough good restorative sleep, it changes the diversity in a fragile microbiome, same as stress and the lack of exercise.

How do you nurture your oral microbiome to keep it happy and healthy?

In general, eating a diet rich in foods that are alkalizing, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant will help to keep the pH and oral microbiome terrain balanced. Eating foods beneficial for dental health are also better for your general health, too. 

Here are a few helpful tips:

  • Eat whole, nutrient-dense food with an abundance of colourful vegetables, high-quality protein, essential fatty acids, complex carbohydrates, and fermented foods.

  • Increase green leafy vegetable intake.

  • Eat a diverse selection of fibre.

  • Eat and drink fermented foods on a regular basis like sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir.

  • Make sure you’re getting enough fat-soluble vitamins including vitamin A, D, E, and vitamin K2. 

  • Make sure you’re getting enough minerals, especially calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus.

  • Optimise vitamin D levels.

  • Get better relaxation (increase your sleep and reduce stress levels).

  • Take regular exercise. 

  • Consume enough water.

  • Avoid antibiotics.

  • Avoid artificial sweeteners.

A healthy, balanced diet is more likely to deliver a variety of healing nutrients, help build enamel, prevent cavities, nourish the oral mucosa, promote saliva production, etc. 

If you suffer from a chronic illness, it’s very likely that you are drained of vital nutrients. So looking into improving the oral microbiome health is something worth considering. 

In short, healing the body helps heal the mouth, and vice versa.

(I have written this article for The Nutritionist Resource, where it was originally published on 26th June, 2020)

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