You would have heard this term ‘microbiome,’ but what does this really mean? People relate the word bacteria to dirt, disease or getting sick. But there are billions of beneficial bacteria present within us! Bacteria make up our microbiome, which is an ecosystem that helps our gut and immune system.
Okay, let’s imagine the gut. It’s a long tube that starts where? In the mouth! Your mouth is like a gateway to your body.
So the gut (including the stomach, small and large intestine, colon) is like a long conveyor belt that takes food from the mouth and processes it along the way. Bacterial imbalances that begin in our mouth during tooth decay & gum disease echo throughout our digestive system and body. Yep, that’s right! The gut has a massive job to do! It transports, digests and absorbs nutrients while filtering out contaminants that shouldn’t get into the bloodstream. To give you a little visual, if we open the gut out, it has a surface area of 32m, which is about half of a badminton court. Pretty big right?
So lets still remember our gut is a conveyor belt and what goes on in the gut is really just an extension of what happens on a smaller scale in your mouth where the microbiome starts. In fact, in the womb, your microbiome literally started in your mouth.
Our entire gut is lined with a little wall of cells called epithelial cells, and these act like a little bodyguard, which allows molecules to pass through to the rest of the body, or refuses entry. These epithelial cells separate your immune system and gut. The gut lining is like a fence over which your immune system and microbes communicate. The cells in the lining have to be bound tightly together to work properly. The lining is meant to allow small molecules to pass through. Sometimes these barriers get broken. One example is taking excessive ibuprofen, it can make the gut barrier permeable- leading to inflammation. Antibiotics is another one too, they can disrupt the good bacteria which is supposed to guard the gut, which causes those epithelial cells to separate which creates very small holes in the gut lining. The gut will now leak out semi-digested food and bacteria. Not eating enough fibre can have a similar effect, if the good bacteria don’t get enough fibre they can go into a starvation mode and the gut barrier doesn’t function properly.
Let’s remember the gut lining separates the gut and immune system. So when the gut becomes leaky it will trigger the immune system to overreact, which could lead to inflammation. Bleeding gums could be the first sign of this microbial imbalance. The healthier your mouth and oral microbiome are, the healthier your gut will be.
Your mouth contains good and bad bacteria that cause tooth decay and good bacteria that manage calcium in your teeth and help fight off bugs that cause tooth decay. The bad bacteria are fast metabolisers that feed off simple carbs. Good bacteria are those that feed on complex carbs or fibre. If you don’t get enough fibre and instead eat mainly simple carbs you will cause the fast-acting (bad) bacteria to grow and take over causing more tooth decay. This balance of good and bad bacteria also goes on in the gut. Fibre can feed the good bacteria in the gut, which use it for energy and to maintain the very important lining of the gut.
If your gums bleed, that’s inflammation. Tissue becomes inflamed when the body’s immune cells flood to the site to fight off pathogens. Gums that bleed too much are usually the first sign that your body is experiencing inflammation. This could lead to gum disease and the gums may start to pull away from the teeth. When gum disease occurs it’s probably a sign that the mouths microbiome is imbalanced and that your immune system is overreacting.
The gut is basically the control centre for our immune system, gum disease can be a sign there is an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the gut as well. Early signs of autoimmune conditions include lichen planus which is an inflammatory condition of the skin, it looks like a lacey white cotton like film. The great thing is the symptoms of these conditions may present themselves in the mouth first and feeding the oral and gut bacteria the right way can prevent them all.
Stress, sleep, exercise and exposure to dirt are all factors, which can affect the microbiome. In conclusion, tooth decay and gum disease go way beyond brushing and flossing well. Disease in the mouth is caused by a microbial imbalance that also lives and needs to stay balanced in the gut. Food has the power to balance our oral and gut microbiome, so food is our mouths best medicine.