How to boost good bacteria in your oral microbiome
Do you know how many bacteria are in the human body? The answer may surprise you.
There are trillions of organisms in the human body, which make up something called the human microbiome¹, including microflora, found in the small intestine, and dental bacteria in your mouth.
But why is the human microbiome important? Well, the human microbiome is essential for human development and immunity², containing a balance of good and bad bacteria that help keep our bodies working.
What is the oral microbiome?
The mouth houses a diverse population of microorganisms known as the oral microbiome. The oral microbiome is the second most diverse habitat on the human body, with more than 700 different species of bacteria identified. But where are all these bacteria hiding?
Microorganisms spread themselves across all the different surfaces of the mouth, so there are bacteria on the tongue, teeth, cheeks, gingiva, palates, and tonsils3. Some types of bacteria love to hide in cavities; others favour the tongue. This is partly to do with the environment in different zones of the mouth and some bacteria prefer dark recesses and others need a source of nutrition.
Knowing that your mouth is home to hundreds of different species of bacteria can be an unappealing thought. Aren’t bacteria bad for you? The truth is, not all bacteria are ‘bad’ and not all bacteria are ‘good’. While some bacteria can be harmful, most bacteria in the microbiome are harmless – and scientists are discovering that lots of these little bacteria that live with us every day are in fact vital to our health.
When it comes to oral bacteria - bacteria on the tongue or teeth, bacteria that are ‘bad’ will constantly be present, even in healthy mouths. However, these ‘bad bacteria’ are kept in check by the presence of good or ‘healthy’ bacteria, and a good balance of the two helps us keep our teeth and gums healthy.
Why is keeping your oral microbiome healthy important?
The microorganisms that cover teeth create what’s called a ‘biofilm’, commonly referred to as plaque – a kind of major housing development for bacteria in the mouth. Some bacteria in the biofilms on teeth and in your mouth can be harmful. To maintain a balance between the ‘healthy bacteria’ and ‘bad bacteria’ in the biofilm, mouth and oral hygiene are vital to ensure that these bacteria won’t damage your oral health4.
The balance of bad to good bacteria can be affected by what happens to the mouth. Any major dental work can be a disturbance to the normal oral microbiota, likewise, having dentures or braces. What we consume can also have a big impact on the microbial environment. Sugary foods, acidic drinks (even sugar-free kinds), and smoking can all change this oral environment, making it easier for 'bad' bacteria to proliferate.
Useful tips for keeping your oral microbiome healthy
The science on how to create a good home for friendly bacteria is developing all the time, but there are a few different things that may help you ensure your community of oral microbes (or oral microbiome) is healthy and balanced:
- Choose a “good bacteria”-boosting toothpaste. Good oral hygiene is of course the foundation of all mouth care. Traditionally, this has been defined as brushing your teeth at least twice a day, flossing, and using mouthwash. However, the type of toothpaste you use is also important. Using a brand like Zendium, which is specifically designed to increase good bacteria in your mouth and reduce the bad bacteria, is a good way to keep your oral microbiome a healthy one.
- Eat more plant-based foods. Many scientists working in this area believe that eating more plant-based foods, such as fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, lentils, tofu, and nuts, is a good place to start. Rather than eradicating all animal-products from our diet, just incorporating a few more plant-based nutrients could help promote healthy bacteria in the microbiome and a more balanced oral environment5.
- Cut down on sugar. When it comes to foods which are bad for teeth, sugary food and drinks are normally at the top of this list, and new research is filling in the gaps as to why. Scientists think one of the detrimental effects of a high sugar diet may be its impact on our oral bacteria6 encouraging the growth of acid-loving and acid-producing bacteria like Streptococcus mutans, which contribute towards cavities and inhibit other good bacteria.
- Quit smoking. Finally, another classic health maxim – the importance of giving up smoking – is given one further justification when it comes to mouth bacteria. Research suggests smoking could harm the delicate balance of oral microorganisms; just one of many great reasons to put out that cigarette7.
- Diabetic? Try to manage your blood glucose levels. If you live with diabetes, making sure it is well-managed may be an important part of good mouth care. Oral bacteria may be disturbed by fluctuations in blood glucose.
With a multitude of ways to boost the good bacteria in our mouths, it’s time to act. Considering the many important things they do for us, it’s time we showed our valued microbial friends a little love in return.
The advice in this article does not constitute medical advice; it is solely available for information purposes. We recommend that you consult your dentist if you are experiencing any tooth or gum problems.