You’ve heard the expression “orange is the new black.” Well, here’s a health-related version of that idiom for you: The mouth is the new gut. In recent years, much consideration has been given to the gut and how it affects your overall health. But make room, tummy — the oral microbiome is fast making the mouth the buzziest new body part begging for attention. Wondering what in the heck an oral microbiome is? Hop in and let’s take a tour of that toothy hole on the bottom of your face.
The oral what, now?
“Oral microbiome” is the term for the unique community of mostly bacterial organisms in your mouth. Although your first instinct when you hear “bacteria in your mouth” might be to reach for a bottle of bright blue super-strong oral antiseptic, these bacteria actually serve some pretty important purposes. Think helping remineralize teeth via saliva and distributing molecular oxygen to the gums and soft tissue of the mouth.
We’re partial the analogy of ethnopharmacologist Cass Nelson-Dooley, M.S., for “Ask the Dentist”: “If we think of the gastrointestinal tract as a river, then the mouth is the headwater — the source of that river. It sets the stage for everything that comes after in the gastrointestinal tract and in the whole body.”
Of course, the intestinal microbiome (aka, the gut) is vital to health and well-being, but the oral microbiome is arguably just as important because it’s the opening to the intestinal tract. In fact, there is a 45 percent overlap of bacteria population in the mouth and colon — another thing you probably don’t want to hear, but it’s a crucial connection.
Step away from the antibacterial mouthwash. Using such harsh oral-care products, such as detergent-based toothpastes and rinses with alcohol, can destroy your microbiome. Decolonizing your mouth of good bacteria can upset the oral microbiome, which many experts believe could lead to other health issues throughout the body — not to mention oral problems such as tooth decay and gum disease.
Avoid a diet high in sugar and refined carbs, which makes your oral microbiome more acidic (which, in turn, changes the flora in the mouth for the worse). Instead, focus on a diet full of alkalizing, antioxidant-rich foods.
Because exercise improves circulatory function and helps reduce stress (stress can lead to a more acidic body!), it’s another important part of the equation.
So, it’s not as simple as brushing and flossing — but protecting your oral microbiome is easy if you make it a habit.