Have You Heard of Leaky ‘Gum’ Syndrome?
We’re used to hearing about how important gut health is. After all, the science behind the gut microbiome and its impact on full-body health has been a trending topic over the last few years. Scientists have found that many of the issues that stem from our gut cause problems because of their ability to spread to other regions of the body 1. This is why bringing awareness of Leaky Gut Syndrome has been instrumental in educating the world about the power of gut health.
Though our gut microbial friends contribute greatly to our health - they can also disrupt our health when they pass through our intestinal lining into our bloodstream 1. Even the most beneficial, commensal gut microbes aren’t meant to travel outside our intestines.
What protects this from happening is the thin layer of intestinal cells - called intestinal epithelial cells - that act as a protective barrier. When small holes or ‘junctions’ in this lining occur, microbes can walk their way out of the digestive system and straight into our bloodstream. But our gut microbiome isn’t the only microbial ecosystem that can be threatened by epithelial cell gaps.
The Oral Microbiome
The human body is covered in many, diverse microbial ecosystems, ranging from our skin to our gut, and even our mouth. In fact, the microbes that live in our mouth and throat contribute greatly to the populations that thrive inside our gut 2. Just think, every time you swallow you're taking millions of microbes with you into your stomach, some of which can make it past that acidic environment and into your digestive tract.
Just like our gut, the oral microbiome also is essential to our health 3. These microbes help break down foods, out-compete harmful microbes, and maintain the integrity of our oral cavity. Scientists once viewed bacteria in the mouth as a threat, creating products like alcohol-based mouthwashes to wipe out bacteria in the mouth daily. These days, we’re learning that many bacteria are extremely important and creating new and improved ways to keep our mouths clean without destroying our mouth ecosystem.
When Oral Microbes Go Astray
Similar to our gut microbiome, it's important to have a balanced system to support our own oral health. Unfortunately, a variety of factors can disrupt that balance, including our environment, our oral hygiene, and even the foods we eat. These factors - and others - can disrupt the health of our mouth and increase the likelihood of injury to our gums 4.
Over time, the thin layer of cells that make up our gums can start to experience ‘holes’ and become - you named it - leaky 4. This can appear as gums that bleed easily, where microbes can quickly escape from the mouth and slip into the bloodstream.
This poses a problem for a number of reasons. For one, nobody likes to have bleeding gums. They can become painful, sore, and slow to heal. Additionally, our immune system can become activated when it identifies free-floating microbes in places they don’t belong. Our immune cells are impressive bodyguards, but if we’re allowing microbes to frequently pass through ‘leaky gums,’ it can be difficult to manage our immune system.
We also have a similar issue as these microbes pass through our blood. Studies have shown that imbalances in our oral microbiome can pass into our bloodstream and impact our heart health and interrupt signals in the brain 56.
Tips for Supporting a Healthy Oral Microbiome
Although we still have a lot to learn about ‘leaky gum syndrome’ and overall oral health - there are things we can do to promote a healthier oral environment.
1. Cut out the alcohol-based mouthwashes.
Just like taking antibiotics, alcohol-based mouthwashes can clear out beneficial and commensal microbes as easily as they can eliminate harmful ones. 7 Switching to a more gentle oral mouthwash can help support balance without disrupting the oral microbiome more than necessary.
2. Like your dentists suggested, pick up the floss!
It’s easier said than done, we know, but flossing helps break apart microbial colonies that are settling in between your teeth and connecting with your gums. Looking for the latest new tech in flossing? Check out electronic water flossing tools and explore a whole new world of clean.
3. Make sure you eat your vegetables.
Believe it or not, your diet is the number one contributor to not just your oral health, but your overall health! Making sure you’re consuming a diet rich in plants and vegetables provides key nutrients to support your body, fiber for healthy snacking for your microbes (both gut and mouth!), and even help stabilize your oral pH to keep your microbial environment a little more friendly to beneficial bacteria.
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Kitamoto, S., Nagao-Kitamoto, H., Hein, R., Schmidt, T. M., & Kamada, N. (2020). Journal of dental research, 99(9), 1021–1029. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022034520924633
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Leishman, S. J., Do, H. L., & Ford, P. J. (2010). Journal of oral microbiology, 2, 10.3402/jom.v2i0.5781. https://doi.org/10.3402/jom.v2i0.5781
Lin, D., Hutchison, K. E., Portillo, S., Vegara, V., Ellingson, J. M., Liu, J., Krauter, K. S., Carroll-Portillo, A., & Calhoun, V. D. (2019). NeuroImage, 200, 121–131. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2019.06.023
Ustrell-Borràs, M., Traboulsi-Garet, B., & Gay-Escoda, C. (2020). Medicina oral, patologia oral y cirugia bucal, 25(1), e1–e12. https://doi.org/10.4317/medoral.23085