Integrative Way: Wrong Bacteria in Mouth Can Take Heavy Toll on Health
Drs. Kay Judge and Maxine Barish-Wreden
Published in The Sacramento Bee, Calif. 08-24-12
Your mouth is the gateway to your body, and can affect the health of the rest of your body. Did you know that more than 6 billion bacteria are present inside the mouth?
In essence, you have more bacteria in your mouth than the Earth's human population! Most of the bacteria in the mouth are harmless, but the wrong bacteria in your mouth can led to tooth decay, gingivitis, heart disease and kidney disease.
Specific bacteria, including Streptococcus mutans, are responsible for tooth decay. In addition, researchers from the Royal College of Surgeons published a study in March showing that there may be oral bacteria that are responsible for accelerating heart disease. Their research showed that Streptococcus gordonii can produce a molecule on its surface that enables it to mimic the human protein fibrinogen, which is a blood-clotting factor.
This activates platelets -- the blood cells that are involved in clotting -- and causes them to clump inside blood vessels. Platelet clumping can result in growths on the heart valves (endocarditis) or blood vessel inflammation that can block blood supply to the heart or brain.
Here are some key facts about oral bacteria you may want to know, to keep your mouth healthy:
Your oral bacteria shift with age and health. The micro-environment of the oral cavity changes with age, the eruption or loss of teeth, and the presence of periodontal disease. Systemic changes, such as pregnancy or drug intake, also alter the number and proportion of flora. These changes are due to changes in the flow, amount and composition of salivary fluid and in the levels and activity of defense components such as immunoglobulins and cytokines in the saliva. Taking probiotics may help keep the bacterial balance in your body.
Sugar promotes growth of bacteria and plaque. Bacteria consume sugar from food residue in the mouth and excrete lactic acid, which becomes part of the plaque layer. Foods to avoid include soda, fruit juice, caramels and candy. Drink plenty of water between meals instead of soda to rinse out food debris and remove bacteria, and eat crunchy vegetables that are nature's natural dental floss (e.g. celery).
Bad oral health is linked to an increased risk of heart disease. Here is a surprising statistic: The relative risk of cardiovascular disease is doubled in people with periodontal disease.
Smoking is a risk factor for periodontal disease. Yet one more reason to quit smoking.
Scraping the tongue is a good way to get rid of excess bacteria. Most of us have heard about brushing and flossing after each meal, but did you know brushing your tongue or using a tongue scraper daily is a great way to reduce the buildup of excess bacteria in your mouth? Tongue scrapers can be found at many natural food stores.
Washing out the mouth helps reduce bacterial overload. Mouthwash is a remedy that helps control the amount of bacteria found in the mouth. In addition to regular mouthwash, natural mouthwash can be found over-the-counter; it contains ingredients such as cinnamon oil, clove, tea tree oil, peppermint and spearmint. And if nothing else is available, gargling with water is better than not washing the mouth out after a meal.
So for a healthy mouth, eat your veggies, decrease your processed carbs, take your probiotics and stop smoking. In addition, brush and floss your teeth, and scrape your tongue, daily. Use a mouthwash regularly.
You may get to keep those pearly whites longer, and you may avoid heart disease in the process!