Healthy Mouth, Healthy Body: Why is oral health so important?
Oral Health: More Than Just Fresh Breath
Health is our most valuable commodity in life, and many of us struggle with it. Through proper nutrition, we believe you can improve healthspan and lifespan. As a company that is so focused on this mission, why on earth would we care so much about a sparkling smile and fresh breath?
I promise you that it is not a matter of vanity. It turns out that having excellent oral health is much more meaningful to your overall health than just a white smile and minty breath.
Your oral cavity is home to nearly 700 species of microbes, we call this the oral microbiome.1 It is the second most abundant and diverse microbiome in your body after the gut microbiome.1 These microbes coat every surface of your mouth: your tongue, your teeth, your gums, your throat, and in your saliva. They especially like those tiny cracks and crevices in between your teeth and gums.
When your oral microbiome is healthy, it can provide beneficial functions for your oral health, like protection from pathogens, cavities, bad breath, and gum disease.2 These microbes can also provide beneficial functions for the rest of your body, such as pre-digesting your food before it even reaches your stomach and producing nitric oxide, which helps regulate your blood pressure.2
If your oral microbiome is dysregulated, meaning the microbes in your mouth are performing non-optimal functions, or if there is a higher prevalence of oral pathogens (the so-called “bad guys”) than commensals (the “good guys”) it can be detrimental to your oral health.*
Some of these “bad guys” include Streptococcus mutans, which is a significant contributor in teeth erosion. S. mutans lives in biofilms on your teeth, especially those cracks and crevices I mentioned earlier. S. mutans can metabolize the sugars and starches left in your mouth from food and produces acids that erode your teeth.2 It also produces plaque which provides a sticky surface for additional bacteria to adhere to.2
Another “bad guy” in your mouth is Porphyromonas gingivalis or P. gingivalis. This is the main bacterium that causes gum disease, aka gingivitis, and periodontitis, which is advanced staged gingivitis. This bacteria can produce inflammatory molecules like lipopolysaccharides or LPS which cause inflammation in the mouth and the rest of your body, and a whole host of other virulence factors and enzymes which, over time, can erode your gums, your teeth, and the bony structure that holds your teeth in place.*2
Other “bad guys” in your mouth can metabolize certain compounds in your food like sulfurous compounds in cruciferous vegetables or polyamines in fermented foods, to produce highly odorous byproducts that contribute to bad breath.3 Unless you’re testing your oral microbiome, you’ll likely have no idea any of this is going on in your mouth. Sure, maybe you can smell your bad breath, but otherwise, most dental infections will have no pain.4
Are all of these “bad guys” affecting only your oral health? We hope so, but that’s not always the case.
Your mouth is the gateway to the body, and there is only a thin layer of protection between the microbes in your mouth and the rest of your body. Every time you swallow, microbes in your saliva make their way into your stomach, which is a very acidic environment. The acid usually kills these oral microbes, but if you have low stomach acid production or take Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs), some of these microbes may survive and make their way into your digestive tract.5 If you have gum disease, tooth decay, or any cuts in your mouth, oral microbes can easily make their way into your bloodstream and then circulate through your entire body.
Oral Microbiome Connections
Research is now only beginning to understand the complexities of the oral microbiome and its connection to systemic health and what we’re finding is that the health of your mouth is really a mirror of the health of the rest of your body. If these oral pathogens are circulating in your bloodstream, they can cause disease in other parts of your body. There are many examples documented in the literature, but I’ll go over a few here.
Brain Health: Recent studies have shown that P. gingivalis is able to cross the Blood Brain Barrier and has been found along with its virulence factor gingipain in the brains of Alzheimer's patients. So there seems to be a strong correlation between gum disease and cognitive function.*6
Gut Health: There are several studies now that show a strong positive correlation between gum health and inflammation in the gut.7 The presence of the oral pathogen Fusobacterium nucleatum (F. nucleatum) in the gut is associated with the development of colorectal cancer (CRC). F. nucleatum promotes tumor development by inducing inflammation and host immune response in the CRC microenvironment.*8
Joint Health: DNA from common periodontal pathogens as well as antibodies to these pathogens, have been found in both the blood and synovial fluid (the liquid between your joints) of Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) patients.*11
Heart health: oral pathogens have been found in the clots and plaques of heart attack patients.12 There is strong evidence for a positive association between periodontitis (gum disease) and coronary artery disease.*13
Here are some statistics to further illustrate the numbers above on heart health:
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 47% of Americans over the age of 30 have gum disease.
People with gum disease are nearly twice as likely to have heart disease, according to the American Academy of Periodontology.
My intention with these associations and statistics is to empower you. Knowledge is power! While it might sound scary, the silver lining is that all of this is preventable with proper nutrition and hygiene. It is not too late to dial in your oral hygiene and personalized nutrition for better health.
Check out the Viome Guide for Oral Health for more actionable tips on improving your oral hygiene habits for better oral (and whole body) health!
Deo, P. N., & Deshmukh, R. (2019). Journal of oral and maxillofacial pathology : JOMFP, 23(1), 122–128. pubmed.gov
Sedghi, L., DiMassa, V., Harrington, A., Lynch, S. V., & Kapila, Y. L. (2021). Periodontology 2000, 87(1), 107–131. Available from: pubmed.gov
Hampelska, K., Jaworska, M. M., Babalska, Z. Ł., & Karpiński, T. M. (2020). Journal of clinical medicine, 9(8), 2484. Available from: pubmed.gov
Gasner NS, Schure RS. Periodontal Disease. [Updated 2022 Aug 16]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: pubmed.gov
Bruno, G., Zaccari, P., Rocco, G., Scalese, G., Panetta, C., Porowska, B., Pontone, S., & Severi, C. (2019). World journal of gastroenterology, 25(22), 2706–2719. Available from: pubmed.gov
Singhrao, S. K., & Olsen, I. (2019). Journal of oral microbiology, 11(1), 1563405. Available from: pubmed.gov
Su, W., Chen, Y., Cao, P., Chen, Y., Guo, Y., Wang, S., & Dong, W. (2020). Frontiers in cellular and infection microbiology, 10, 594806. Available from: pubmed.gov
Yu, T., Guo, F., Yu, Y., Sun, T., Ma, D., Han, J., Qian, Y., Kryczek, I., Sun, D., Nagarsheth, N., Chen, Y., Chen, H., Hong, J., Zou, W., & Fang, J. Y. (2017). Cell, 170(3), 548–563.e16. Available from: pubmed.gov
Pregnancy and Oral Health. CDC.gov
Saini, R., Saini, S., & Saini, S. R. (2010). Journal of natural science, biology, and medicine, 1(1), 40–42. Available from: pubmed.gov
Buschhart, A. L., Bolten, L., Volzke, J., Ekat, K., Kneitz, S., Mikkat, S., Kreikemeyer, B., & Müller-Hilke, B. (2020). PloS one, 15(12), e0242868. Available from: pubmed.gov
Pessi, T., Karhunen, V., Karjalainen, P.P., Ylitalo, A., Airaksinen, J.K., Niemi, M., Pietila, M., Lounatmaa, K., Haapaniemi, T., Lehtimäki, T., Laaksonen, R., Karhunen, P.J., and Mikkelsson, J. (2013). Circulation, 127:1219–1228. Available from: ahajournals.org.
Sanz, M., et al. (2020). Journal of Clinical Periodontology. Available from: National Library of Medicine, pubmed.gov.