As we strive to attain optimal health, we often tend to focus on individual aspects of our well-being, such as dental health and gut health, without realizing their intricate connection. While brushing, flossing, and regular visits to the dentist contribute to a gleaming smile, the state of your oral health reaches far beyond your pearly whites.
In recent years, the spotlight has shifted towards gut health and its role in bolstering the body’s immune system and digestive function. However, the surprising truth lies in the little-known correlation between dental and gut health, a connection that has only recently begun to be explored by scientists.
Ready to understand what we know so far about this connection? Join us as we break it down for you.
Understanding Dental Health
Just to make sure we are on the same page, let’s start by defining dental health. Also known as oral health or oral hygiene, dental health centers around caring for your teeth, gums, and mouth. Since our mouth is what gives us the ability to chew, smile, and speak, its well-being is something that affects all of us. After all, no one wants to experience oral ain that makes it hard to eat, drink, or talk.
Because oral hygiene is so important, it is often something that we start learning from a young age. We are all taught how to properly brush and floss our teeth, and many of us are in the habit of attending regularly scheduled dentist appointments twice a year. We all know that not taking proper care of our teeth and gums can lead to things like discomfort, pain, cavities, and many other issues that can impact our health and quality of life, but what you may not realize is that the well-being of your mouth can impact the health of your gut.
Unraveling Gut Health
Gut health refers to the well-being of your gastrointestinal (GI) tract (also known as the digestive tract), which extends from your mouth to your anus, and includes things like your stomach and intestines. All throughout the digestive tract there are trillions of microbes like bacteria and yeast that can be found. In fact, these microbes reside within your GI tract and make up what is commonly referred to as the gut microbiome.
While it may seem weird that so many microbes reside within your body, rest assured that they are there for a good reason, at least most of them are. Many of the species of bacteria that call your gut microbiome home are beneficial and necessary for a variety of areas of health like digestion, nutrient absorption, and immune function. With that being said, some of the microbes that reside in your gut are not great for your health. When the colonies of these harmful microbes get too large, they can cause a variety of digestive issues like bloating, excessive gas, and stomach pains.
With that in mind, the key to keeping your gut healthy is to maintain a beneficial balance of bacteria—a balance that results in larger numbers of good bacteria than bad ones. While certain factors that impact this ever-important balance of gut microbes are out of your control (like age and genetics), there are many lifestyle habits you can adopt to help reach and sustain a healthy balance in your gut microbiome, but more on that in a minute.
Microbiomes: The Hidden Connection
So, what is the connection between your oral health and your gut health? It all comes down to one word: microbiomes. Just like your gut has its own microbiome, so do many other parts of your body, including your mouth. In fact, the oral microbiome and the gut microbiome are closely intertwined, yet only the latter is commonly talked about.
As the name suggests, the oral microbiome consists of the microbes, both good and bad, that can be found in your mouth. Just like with your gut, the good bacteria in your oral microbiome play an important role in your overall health, and they are especially important in protecting the many important parts of your mouth, such as your teeth and gums. For example, some helpful strains of oral bacteria are known to release specific acids that can help protect your teeth from being broken down by harmful bacteria.
Wondering how this connects to your gut? The answer is two-fold. For starters, the mouth is the beginning of the digestive system. Think of it as the gatekeeper to the rest of your digestive system, things have to pass through your mouth in order to enter the rest of your digestive tract. Whatever foods, drinks, and yes, bacteria that enter your mouth have passed through the entry gate and can make their way into your gut. Of course, this is usually a good thing, as we need the nutrients from our meals to enter our gut so they can be broken down, absorbed, and used by our bodies. However, if harmful bacteria have found their way into your mouth, they can also make their way down to your gut where they can wreak havoc on your gut and many other areas of your health.
Additionally, the oral and gut microbiomes are even more closely linked than they appear. While we generally think of the oral microbiome being contained in our mouths and the gut microbiome being contained deep in our gut (like in the intestines), the truth is that these two microbiomes actually flow toward and even into each other. This means that the microbes in your mouth can not only make their way into your gut microbiome, but it’s actually pretty easy for them to do so. Because of this, when your oral microbiome is diverse and balanced, it is better equipped to support your gut microbiome so it can be healthy and thriving as well.
Tips to Improve Both Oral and Gut Health
Since the oral and gut microbiomes are so intimately connected, there are plenty of simple habits you can adopt that will support both of these vital aspects of your health, including…
1. Each Food Rich in Probiotics
You already know that probiotics are a great tool to have in your gut health toolbox, and the good news is that they are a tool that will provide benefit for your mouth, too! This is especially true if you are getting probiotics from foods, as the process of chewing these gut-supporting foods will allow some of those beneficial bacteria to set up camp in your mouth, where they can help protect your teeth, gums, and gut. Some of the best probiotic-rich foods to try are fermented foods like kimchi, kombucha, kefir, miso soup, yogurt, and sauerkraut.
2. Swap Processed Foods for Whole Foods
Both dental and gut health are affected by your diet. Foods that have been highly processed often contain synthetic ingredients and added salts and sugars while offering little to no nutritional value. Because of this, they offer little to no support for your gut or mouth, and the added sugars can actually harm these important areas of your body. That’s why swapping out those processed foods for healthier whole foods is one of the best things you can do to support both your oral and gut microbiomes. Fill your plate with fresh fruits and veggies, legumes, and whole grains as often as possible to keep your mouth healthy and your digestive system functioning properly.
3. Reduce Sugar Intake
Sugar is an enemy of your microbiomes because it is the favorite treat of harmful bacteria. When you supply those harmful bacteria with a large supply of the sugar they love to snack on, you are giving them the fuel they need to grow and survive, which can disrupt the balance of microbes and impact the health of your gut and your mouth. As often as possible, avoid foods that have large amounts of added sugar and choose to sweeten your own recipes with natural sweeteners instead of processed sugar.
4. Practice Good Oral Hygiene
Of course, this list wouldn’t be complete without oral hygiene practices. Those small habits of brushing your teeth, flossing, and visiting the dentist regularly go a long way toward keeping your oral microbiome healthy and happy. Be cautious about using mouthwash and other products that are anti-microbial though, as these products wipe out all the microbes in your mouth, good and bad, which may not always be the best option.
Live the #NewEarthLife
Your body is an amazing and complex creation that is composed of many individual systems that are intimately connected, like your gut and your mouth. Taking steps to understand the interconnection between your gut and your mouth and prioritizing the care of both will help you step forward into a life of lasting vitality and well-being. A life we like to call the #NewEarthLife.
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