The human mouth and the human gut are home to the two largest concentrations of microscopic life in the body. Some of these are bad for your health–the bacteria that cause tooth decay being a prominent example. However, some kinds can be helpful, and that’s where prebiotics and probiotics come in.
Oral Health and General Health
Though we tend to sequester them, oral health and overall health interact directly and complexly. While there are many examples–the link between gum disease and heart disease, for example–the one we’d like to focus on today is the link between your oral health and your gut health. Your gut biome and your oral cavity represent the two largest collections of microorganisms in your body, and they interact directly as components of the alimentary canal. Various microorganisms move between them, and what happens in one affects the other. A buildup of undesirable microorganisms in the mouth can cause cavities, tooth decay, and gum disease, but can also contribute to inflammation throughout the system and cause problems in the gut as well.
So how do we manage our oral health as a component of our gut health?
Prebiotics, Probiotics, and Oral Health
Prebiotics and probiotics are two powerful tools for controlling the growth of microorganisms within the body and promoting the development of a healthy and supportive biome both in the oral cavity and in the gut. While prebiotics and probiotics are related, there are some key distinctions between them:
- Prebiotics are specialized plant fibers, found in a wide variety of plant-derived foods. They provide nutrients and minerals that allow healthy, supportive microorganisms to thrive. As prebiotics moves through the digestive system, the body’s digestive process frees its nutrient content and allows the “good” microorganisms to feed, thrive, and multiply. They then crowd out the bad microorganisms to the benefit of our overall health.
- Probiotics are the beneficial microorganisms themselves, which feed on probiotics and (hopefully) populate the gut and oral cavity at the expense of harmful microorganisms. Probiotics can enter the body naturally on healthy foods or they can be taken as a supplement. Many brands of probiotic supplements are available and can be found at many health food stores.
There are a host of different probiotics and prebiotics that affect oral health, but there’s a strong scientific correlation between microorganisms called lactobacilli and resistance to gum disease. A healthy population of lactobacilli in the oral cavity can prevent harmful bacteria from taking hold and thus reduce the risk for gum disease.
Maintaining a balance of health microorganisms requires careful attention to all aspects of health. A weakened immune system can harm probiotics while letting harmful organisms thrive. An unhealthy diet can do the same thing. And as always, there’s no oral health substitute for brushing, flossing, and regular dental exams and cleanings. Taking care of your teeth is a vital part of your overall health, and all aspects of it matter in pursuit of the end goal of a lifetime of a healthy body and a bright, healthy smile.