How Your Overall Health Starts in Your Mouth
In 2000, the Surgeon General’s Report on Oral Health in America referred to the mouth as “the mirror” of health and disease throughout the body.1 The link is so strong that it’s just as important for your health to keep your mouth clean as it is to take care of your body.
Your mouth is full of bacteria that make up your oral microbiome. The key is helping beneficial bacteria thrive while keeping the harmful ones at bay, which you can do with good oral hygiene practices. Read on to understand how your oral microbiome influences your overall health and how to keep your mouth bacteria happy.
The Connection Between Oral and Overall Health
There are somewhere around 50-100 billion bacteria in your mouth that are always at work, whether that means promoting or working against your overall health.2 In fact, there are almost as many bacteria in your mouth as there are in your digestive system.3 While the majority of the bacteria that live here are generally harmless, this isn’t the case for all of them.
Think of your mouth as the portal to the rest of your body when it comes to where bacteria can enter. It’s a readily accessible and easily perturbed environment. From your oral cavity, bacteria can move to your respiratory and digestive systems — and if they’re harmful, they can cause problems here, particularly if your oral hygiene habits aren’t cutting it.
When oral bacteria aren’t being managed by proper dental hygiene, the health of the teeth, gums and breath affect. Among children, poor oral health can interfere with proper growth and development. Maintaining proper oral hygiene is critical, as dental health plays a role in keeping other areas of the body healthy as well.4
Health Conditions That May Be Linked to Poor Oral Health
Without proper oral care practices of brushing and flossing, harmful bacteria can build up and wreak havoc on more than just your mouth. Below are some of the health conditions that may be promoted by an excess of harmful oral bacteria and the systemic inflammation and infections they can trigger:5
Cardiovascular disease, including clogged arteries and stroke
Endocarditis, an infection of the inner lining of the heart valves and chambers
Pneumonia and other respiratory diseases triggered when oral bacteria reach the lungs
Premature birth and low birth weight among pregnant women
On the other hand, there are certain pre-existing health conditions that may also make it more difficult to maintain optimal oral health. For example, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, osteoporosis, eating disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, and immune disorders may present unique challenges to the oral microbiome, making good oral hygiene even more important.
If you have one of these conditions or are concerned about your oral health, it’s always best to speak with your physician and dentist regarding preventive care.
Good Oral Health Habits
Practicing good oral hygiene on a daily basis is an important lifelong habit for everyone. Not only does it help keep your mouth clean and healthy, but as you can see, a happy mouth also prevents harmful bacteria from causing other problems in your body.
Here are some basic tips for good oral hygiene:4
Brush your teeth at least twice daily, morning and night, using a brush with soft bristles and trustworthy and healthy toothpaste. Aim for a goal of two minutes per brushing session. It can be helpful to set a timer if you’re a visual person.
After you brush your teeth at night, floss between your teeth to remove remaining food particles and plaque. Flossing also strengthens the gums, which is an important part of oral health.
Once you’ve brushed and flossed, use alcohol-free mouthwash to freshen breath and remove particles that may be left over.
Replace your toothbrush every three months or sooner following an illness.
Visit your dentist for regular dental cleanings and preventive oral care. This should generally be twice per year, or every six months, unless more frequent visits are recommended.
Don’t smoke or use tobacco.
Enjoy a healthy diet that limits added sugar and sugary beverages.
Oral Hygiene is Preventive Health
Keeping your oral microbiome healthy and happy is a key component of overall health. Fortunately, with just a few simple daily oral hygiene habits, you can drastically change the balance of bacteria living in your mouth and start your journey to achieve total body wellness.
“2000 Surgeon General’s Report on Oral Health in America.” NIDCR.NIH.gov. Reviewed March 2021. Available from: nidcr.nih.gov/research.
Krishnan K, Chen T, Paster BJ. (2017). [Practical guide to oral microbiome and its relation to health]. Oral Diseases. PubMed.
Verma D, Garg PK, Dubey AK. (2018). [Insights into the human oral microbiome]. Archives of Microbiology. PubMed.
Oral Health in America: Advances and Challenges. (2021). Bethesda (MD): National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (US). National Library of Medicine.
“Gum Disease and Other Diseases.” (n.d.). American Academy of Periodontology. Available from: perio.org.