Oral care may not be the first thing most people think of when it comes to supporting overall wellbeing, but research shows oral health is essential. Researchers reporting in the Journal of Bacteriology explain: "Microorganisms colonizing one area of the oral cavity have a significant probability of spreading on contiguous epithelial surfaces to neighboring sites." In addition to oral infectious diseases, they note that evidence links oral bacteria to a number of systemic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, stroke, and diabetes.

Oral Microbiome / Overall Health Connection

The oral microbiome hosts more than 700 species of bacteria residing in the mouth. Together, these make up our oral microbiome. When there is an imbalance in the microbiome, the body can become susceptible to developing illnesses. In Gut health: A key link between oral and systemic wellness, dental hygienist Carrie McHill, EPDH, explains, "The bacteria in the mouth (whether by traveling from the mouth through the digestive tract or from seeping into systemic circulation) then arrives in the gut where it causes additional inflammation. The dysbiosis of the gut microbiota is one of the first reactions that can happen after periodontal disease. Once these pathogens become predominant, they wreak havoc in the gut microbiome, causing inflammation and organ dysfunction." 

“There’s 700 different species of bacteria that live in these oral subhabitats: the teeth, the tongue, gums, saliva, ear, nose, and throat,” explained Bonnie Feldman, DDS, MBA, in the presentation “Oral Health and Microbiome” at the Naturally Informed virtual event Nutri-Beauty: Mastering the Market, available on-demand at NaturallyInformed.net. “And it’s not just bacteria—we also have viruses, eukaryotes, and fungi.”

Like the gut, Dr. Feldman added, “what happens in the mouth, does not stay in the mouth. 47.2% of American adults have gum disease, and adults over the age of 70 with gum disease are 70% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s. People with gum disease are also more likely to have heart disease and to have a higher risk of stroke; periodontal disease may also be associated with autoimmune diseases.”

Leaky gut is an other concern. When an individual is healthy, the bacteria in the oral cavity are killed in the stomach by strong gastric acids. Christina Eggleston-McKenzie, MSFN, RDH, explains in 3 connections every dental hygienist should know about gut and oral health, that periodontal pathogens have been found to inhabit the outer layer of the gut. "When enough of these bacteria are present, holes or breaks form in the thin and absorbent lining of the gut." When bacteria is able to enter the bloodstream, there is an increased risk of developing problems, such as autoimmune disease. 

Strategies to Support the Oral Microbiome

Use Nature's Helpers

Brushing teeth at least twice per day and flossing regularly are essential, regardless of what products are used. And the products used can make a significant difference. Spry brand oral care products contain xylitol, which has been shown to prevent bacterial adhesion to teeth and tissue. Spry offers toothpaste, gum, mints, oral rinse, and mouth moisturizers. Tea tree oil is another natural standout, thanks to its antiseptic properties.

Researchers reporting in the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine point to chewing sticks, used after every meal or in the morning. "Before you could buy toothbrushes on store shelves, Ayurvedic practitioners recommended their patients use neem twigs to clean their teeth, relieve painful toothaches, and prevent gum disease," explains Dr. Edward F. Group III, DC, NP, in Neem Oil & Leaves: 7 Impressive Health Benefits & Uses. "Perhaps it's no surprise to learn that, today, neem bark is an active ingredient in several natural oral health products, from toothpaste to mouthwash. Neem's anti-bacterial properties help limit bacterial growth in the mouth, reducing the risk of swollen gums (gingivitis), bad breath (halitosis), and even more serious dental issues like plaque buildup and tooth decay."

Dr. Group suggests placing the oil on dental floss, rubbing it along the gums, or adding a drop to toothpaste. Researchers reporting in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine studied the effects of mouthwashes containing neem, mango, or chlorhexidine on children ages 12-15. Their conclusion: "All the three mouthwashes were effective antiplaque and antigingivitis agents. Chlorhexidine and neem possess equivalent efficacy in reducing plaque, while chlorhexidine has superior antigingivitis properties."

That said, many professionals have cautioned against using chemical mouthwash, as it kills both good and bad bacteria. In Effects of Chlorhexidine mouthwash on the oral microbiome, researchers found that using mouthwash for one week altered the oral microbiome. They determined: "In conclusion this study indicates that a 7-day use of CHX mouthwash has a significant impact on the oral microbiome, as well as shift to an acidic environment, favorable for increased dental caries, and a reduction of the amount of oral nitrate-reducing bacteria, which contribute to cardiovascular health. Thus, these findings add to the growing body of evidence that the applications of CHX mouthwash should be more carefully considered, and that CHX could have detrimental effects on the healthy microbiome, and in turn cardiovascular health, requiring further investigation." WF